Escape Hatches: China's Foundling Dilemma
Value Judgement: Xi's European Tour
Bench Pressed: Judicial Brain Drain
WHY THEY SAY NO The protest movement dividing an island
Volume No. 070 June 2014
Published by China Newsweek Corporation Publisher: Liu Beixian Executive Director: Liu Beixian Editor-in-Chief: Wang Xiaohui Editorial Office Managing Editor: Zheng Zhonghai Advisor: Liu Dizhong Senior Editor: Yang Yi Copy Editors: Jack Smith, Alex Taggart Lead Writers: Yu Xiaodong, Li Jia Editors: Wang Yan, Yuan Ye, Xie Ying, Sun Zhe, Du Guodong First Reader: Sean Silbert Address: 5th Floor, 12 Baiwanzhuang South Street, Xicheng District, Beijing, China Post Code: 100037 Tel: 86-10-88395566 Fax: 86-10-88388045 Email: email@example.com www.newschinamag.com Art Department Art Director: Wu Shangwen Art Editor/Designer: Zhang Dawei Publishing and Development Office China Newsweek Corporation President: Wang Xiaohui Chief Executive: Fred Teng Publishing Associate: Zhang Tianli Tel: 1-212-481-2510 Fax: 1-212-481-2503 Address: Suite 1101, 15 East 40th Street, New York, NY 10016, USA Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Toronto Office Director: Lai Hailong Address: 51 Halstead Drive, Markham, ON Canada L3R7Z4 Tel: 1-905-604-6150 Fax: 1-905-604-6170 Email: email@example.com Marketing Director: Wang Chenbo Account Manager : Ren Jie Tel: 86-10-88388027 Circulation Manager: Yu Lina Tel: 86-10-88311834 Advertising Director: Gao Weiwei Tel: 1-212-481-2510 Marketing Promoter: Jerry Meng Tel: 1-212-481-2510 New York Office: Wang Yongzhi, Ruan Yulin, Li Yang Washington Office: Wu Qingcai, De Yongjian Los Angeles Office: Mao Jianjun San Francisco Office: Liu Dan Houston Office: Wang Huan London Office: Zhou Zhaojun Tokyo Office: Sun Ran Paris Office: Long Jianwu Bangkok Office: Yu Xianlun Kuala Lumpur Office: Huang Hongbin Moscow Office: Jia Jingfeng Manila Office: Zhang Ming Berlin Office: Huang Shuanghong Sydney Office: Zhu Daqiang Legal Advisor: Allen Wu ISSN 1943-1902
NEWSCHINA I June 2014
The fallacy of urban management
n April 19 in Cangnan county, Zhe- typically poorly paid and poorly trained, with jiang Province, employees of the local many hired on a temporary basis, and most of urban management bureau, known as them not local to the areas they patrol. Some lochengguan, attacked a man who was taking photos cal governments have even employed known thugs to stop them beating a street and gang members, further vendor, with a rumor soon harming the reputation of Whenever there is spreading that their victim ultithe institution. violence involving mately died from head injuries. To repair this damage, the The incident quickly escalated authorities should endeavor chengguan, they are into a riot, as the officials were to provide more effective almost guaranteed to besieged by an angry crowd of and standardized training take the blame. hundreds of people. In the folfor chengguan, while also lowing clashes, five chengguan improving their pay and were injured, with two left in working conditions. The critical condition. Local police long-term goal should be, as authorities arrested over 10 it always officially has been, people allegedly involved in the incident. turning all their powers over to the (better-trained, This dramatic clash is merely the latest to erupt usually more diplomatic and infinitely more acbetween chengguan and ordinary citizens in recent countable) formal police force. The fact that Chimonths. Like many clashes before, public sympa- na’s police are not in practice responsible for keepthy favors the “innocent,” in this case assault victim ing the peace is an idiosyncrasy few modernizing Huang Xiangba, with many perceiving the merci- nations can afford to tolerate. less beatings sustained by the chengguan as justiMoreover, the authorities are slowly tweaking fied. their guiding principles on urban management. Whenever there is violence involving chengguan, In most cases, violence between chengguan and whether the officials are instigators or victims, they local residents is triggered by attacks on impoverare almost guaranteed to take the blame. This lat- ished street vendors, who are subject to fines and est indicates that it has become critical for the gov- the confiscation of their goods. The public often ernment to address some fundamental problems view this as akin to mugging beggars, and respond involving the legitimacy and supervision of urban with according disapproval. Moreover, as most of management. those subjected to chengguan justice end up disCurrently, chengguan have 14 functions and are possessed, the likelihood of a confrontation turning charged with enforcing more than 300 legal articles violent is increased. and regulations, though none of these powers are Therefore, instead of focusing on cleaning up a enshrined in law. Originating from a pilot program city’s image by exiling and ruining its most vulnerin Beijing, where chengguan were allocated powers able inhabitants, the authorities must shift their “unwanted” or “non-existent” in the police force, focus to improving livelihoods, and allow local resithe institution is essentially extralegal and utterly dents to have a say in how their cities are run. unregulated. Only when urban management authorities reAs rapid urbanization has led to a quick expan- spect the residents they effectively police will they sion in the number of chengguan, personnel are be able to restore their public image.
How relations with the mainland are now at the heart of Taiwanâ€™s increasingly polarized politics
01 The fallacy of urban management 10 Judicial Brain Drain: Court Short
12 Taiwan Protests: Island Divided/Identity Crisis 22 24 26
Official Suicides: Tough at the Top Vocational Education: Getting Technical Drug Scandal: BitterÂ pills
28 Orphans: No Refuge/Adoption is the Key
P58 NEWSCHINA I June 2014
Photo by CFP
no middle ground?
36 China-EU Relations: Putting Values Aside
58 Home at Last
Opportune Erenhot: Crossing Over Flavor of the Month: Get Quacking
44 Alibaba IPO: Market Estimations
04 MEDIA FOCUS 05 What They Say 06 NEWS BRIEF 08 Netizen Watch 47 China by numbers 66 real chinese 68 ESSAY 70 CULTURAL LISTINGS
40 Carbon Market: The Price of Pollution economy
48 Chiang Kai-shek : Stifled Voice culture
Indie Producers: Push Power Artistic Design: Brand Designs
NEWSCHINA I June 2014
72 Without appeal, ‘mixed ownership’ is a dead end
NewsChina Chinese Edition
April 28, 2014
April 3, 2014
There Goes the Neighborhood
Since President Xi Jinping reiterated his vision for the synergistic development of Beijing, Tianjin and their neighboring areas, many cities in Hebei Province, which borders the capital, are seeing the plan as a source of stimulus for local economic growth. However, Beijing has remained ambiguous on the specifics of the program, and thus surrounding cities have begun to doubt whether or not it will ever come to fruition. A concept first proposed years ago, talk of synergistic development has come to little, due to the different demands of all parties involved. Beijing deemed it a way to ease its population and pollution pressures, while its neighbors hoped the capital could deliver more economic assistance and support rather than just offloading its polluting enterprises. Experts have said synergistic development is highly unfeasible if the parties involved find no way to compromise. They suggested that the neighboring cities explore their advantages in catering to the economic chain of Beijing and Tianjin, and that the capital attach less importance to GDP growth.
Oriental Outlook April 1, 2014
Diaspora Disconnect Due to the great influence the older generation of overseas Chinese has had on China’s economic development, many overseas Chinese have for decades been seen as “patriotic” by those on the mainland. This image, however, is fading among the younger generation who, according to observers, consider little more than direct economic benefit when investing in China. Unfamiliar with Chinese language and culture, many young overseas Chinese view China simply as a fast-developing foreign country and a source of commercial opportunities. As the number of government-funded schools for overseas Chinese in China has reduced from 15 to five, many domestic analysts worry that their overseas compatriots will forget their origins. However, others believe that China’s growing national power is in itself arousing a sense of identity among young overseas Chinese.
Smart is the New Singing? As reality shows focused on singing and dancing have become less attractive to the public, science-themed programs, led by The Brain, a franchise of the show Super Brain which originally aired in Germany, have become the latest fad. Made by Jiangsu TV, The Brain invites selected candidates to test their talent in various fields, such as mental arithmetic and memory tests. However, due to the difficulties of finding talent, the program may not make it past its first season, which ended in March. This may not be bad news for the network, since, according to experts, the market has begun to be flooded with similar programs, and it may already be time to find something new. Given that the The Brain has, in many cases, triggered debate about the Chinese education system despite little on-screen discussion of candidates’ childhoods, audiences are hoping for more programs focusing on the personal stories of candidates. China Economic Weekly April 4, 2014
Cash for Approvals In China, no building project is permitted to begin construction before it has passed an environmental assessment and been approved by the relevant government departments. However, media reports have revealed that over 40 percent of environmental surveyors were found to be poorly managed, including many prestigious ones backed by government institutions or top universities. Relations between developers and surveyors are believed to be the major reason, leading the latter to misreport for the sake of quick profits. Worse, the relevant departments charged with supervising surveyors also reportedly turn a blind eye to faked reports after taking bribes from constructors. Increasingly intolerant of China’s worsening pollution, the Chinese people have called upon their government to launch a deeper anti-corruption campaign in the environmental assessment field and to impose harsher penalties on those who are found to have violated environmental protection laws. Economy & Nation Weekly April 14, 2014
Far Behind High-speed Rail Despite China’s rush toward high-speed rail development, most of the cities or towns along railway lines remain undeveloped, with local governments complaining that they have been prohibited from initiating commercial construction projects on land around railway tracks, often leaving them in financial difficulties. At the end of 2013, the Chinese government issued a new policy, allowing the Ministry of Railways to commercially develop the land around railway lines in cooperation with local governments, only to find this model routinely obstructed by conflicts between the ministry and the local governments – while the ministry wanted to lower costs by forcing down land prices, local governments generally wanted to open bidding to all potential investors, in order to ensure maximum profits. This issue, challenging the balance between the market and government interference and involving various powerful interests, has proven a tough nut to crack even for China’s land resources department. NEWSCHINA I June 2014
“If the government encourages you to raise pigs, just raise hens.”
“You’d better invite a retired Chinese official to establish close links with local governments. Only a Chinese can do that job.” Lenovo’s founder Liu Chuanzhi offering localized business advice to Richard Broadbent, president of British supermarket giant Tesco. “If graduates understood more about this country’s past mistakes and the horror of personality cults, they would better understand the folly of populism and the dangers of unchecked power.” Li Peigen, former president of Huazhong University of Science and Technology, in his farewell address to faculty. “My former students working in the government told me that austerity measures had made big savings, so why not pass them on with a tax cut?” Fudan University economics professor Wei Sen decrying the burden on Chinese taxpayers, who pay on average the same percentage in tax as most citizens in the developed world. “I became a vested interest. I was so disturbed by how I benefited from the system that I decided to change it.” Zhang Kaiyuan, history professor of Central China Normal University, explaining why he resigned from a lucrative senior teaching post.
NEWSCHINA I June 2014
Illustration by Wu Shangwen
Yue Hongfu, deputy director of the National Economics Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, protesting excessive government intervention in the market which has led to severe overcapacity.
“Sometimes you are not beaten down by technology, but by a piece of paper.” Jack Ma, founder of China’s biggest e-commerce platform Alibaba voicing widespread concerns in the online payment industry about an imminent government crackdown on this previously unregulated field.
“Life is not sprint but a long-distance race dependant on persistence and endurance rather than where the starting line is. However, Chinese parents tend to expect a 5,000-meter warm-up from their kids – a warm-up which knocks them out.” Zheng Qiang, president of Guizhou University, lashing out against pushy parents.
“I don’t think that Chinese intellectuals are empty-headed. They are just constrained by the system. Their ideas are subject to their interests.” Literary critic Ding Fan on contemporary Chinese thought.
“A rigid system rather than some almighty individual should be what cages official power.” Senior colonel Gong Fangbin blaming military corruption on a lack of supervision.
Caged Tigers The Chinese military procuratorate has brought an indictment against former People’s Liberation Army (PLA) General Gu Junshan for alleged bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power. On April 2, Gong Fangbin, a senior colonel in the PLA’s military science division revealed some details of Gu’s case, describing it as “the most serious corruption exposed in the ranks since the PLA was established.” Gu was detained in 2012 but State media did not break the story until August 2013. Media reported that disciplinary officials had confiscated four truckloads of goods from Gu’s large family residence in Henan Province, which according to Gong, included cash, gold, luxury watches, ivory, tiger pelts, calligraphy and paintings as well as 550 crates of Moutai liquor. “Though not publicized by official sources, the amount of money in question is close to what had been exposed online (tens of millions of US dollars),” Gong wrote on his blog. In January, financial journal Caixin revealed on its website that Gu allegedly “had connections to” the illicit sale of several dozen plots of land in downtown Beijing and personally possessed over 30 houses. The magazine also alleged that Gu had received around US$20 million in kickbacks from the unlawful sale of military landholdings in Shanghai. Gu’s predecessor Wang Shouye received a suspended death sentence in 2006 for taking US$27m in bribes and maintaining a series of mistresses. Such cases have shocked the Chinese public, justifying the popular view that the almost untouchable and secretive military is even more corrupt than the government. According to domestic media reports, the investigation into
Gu’s illegal activities began under Hu Jintao, though new President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign has received the bulk of the credit. A clampdown on the inappropriate use of military vehicles, real estate purchases and budget irregularities has netted a number of PLA figures, though in the official media the military is generally lionized. Still, some are speculating that Gu’s fall could precipitate muchneeded housekeeping in China’s inscrutable and vast military superstructure.
Chinese IT Firms to Prop Up Windows Software giant Microsoft announced that it would stop providing technical assistance and security updates for Windows XP, its most popular operating system, effective April 8. Since the announcement, several Chinese Internet security firms including Tencent, Baidu and Qihoo 360 have partnered with Microsoft, offering free services such as information protection, post-virus repair and Windows 7 or 8 upgrades to Chinese users of Windows XP. Chinese anti-virus and information security companies are hoping to see sales worth five to six billion yuan (US$806m to 967m) during this
transition period, according to Zhang Yi, CEO of Internet consultancy iiMedia Research, in an interview with China Daily. Statistics from the China Internet Network Information Center, the country’s official Internet infrastructure administration, claim that 55.5 percent of office computers and 48.7 percent of PCs nationwide were still running Windows XP as of 2014, most of them using pirated software. It is estimated that XP retains some 200 million users in China. NEWSCHINA I June 2014
20 Percent of Chinese Farmland Polluted
Big Cities See House Sales Fall
Lightly Polluted: 11.2% Mildly Polluted: 2.3% Intermediately Polluted: 1.5% Severely Polluted: 1.1%
Arable Land: 19.4%
24 Detained in PX Protest By April 23, a total of 24 people were detained for “disturbing social order” after participating in a protest against the construction of a p-xylene (PX) factory in Maoming, Guangdong Province. The demonstration on March 30 was attended by more than 80 locals and later escalated when some of the protestors, according to police, damaged vehicles, shops and advertising hoardings before setting a patrol car on fire, injuring at least 15 people including four policemen. Defined as a dangerous chemical, PX is widely used in the manufacture of polyester resin, a key raw material for making polyester fiber. People who are exposed to or inadvertently inhale PX residue can suffer permanent lung and liver damage. The Maoming government has pledged not to break ground on the project before “a consensus is reached” with local residents. However, hopes it will be shelved are slim – China suffers from a chronic PX deficit, importing the bulk of its supply, and in such disputes local views are regularly steamrollered by higher authorities.
China’s biggest cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, saw house sales decline sharply in the first quarter of 2014. According to analysts’ estimation, Beijing sold only around 40,000 apartment units in Q1, 65 percent fewer than in 2013, with sales of second-hand apartments shrinking 80 percent in March. The other three cities also suffered 20-40 percent drops in both first- and second-hand sales. Although some real estate developers had begun to cut disproportionately steep prices in China’s cities, most of which have a housing surplus, analysts are not claiming the fall in sales marks a turning point for the market, arguing that ever-rising land prices will sustain real estate price tags even without buyers. Interestingly, many analysts also believed that the moderate price cut in Q1 was partly due to officials’ dumping their real estate holdings ahead of an asset registration deadline, out of fear of coming under investigation for corruption. Prices for many goods associated with such activities such as luxury liquor, designer watches and high-end vehicles also fell in the same period. Photos by CFP
On April 16, China’s ministries of environmental protection and land resources jointly publicized their first investigation into the scale of the country’s land pollution problem, revealing that nearly 20 percent of arable land has been saturated with unacceptable volumes of chemical contaminants. The eight-year investigation, according to the ministries, took samples from 6.3 million square kilometers of agricultural land, forest, grassland and industrial land. Investigators found that pollutants had exceeded legal levels in 19.4 percent of farmland, 10 percent of the woodland and 10.4 percent of grasslands, with 1.1 percent of the total classified as “severely polluted.” Heavy metals were a leading contaminant, particularly in China’s south, where heavy mining and industrial expansion in rural areas has devastated the local ecosystem.
Tianhe-II Applied in ASC Competition The 2014 ASC (American Standard Code) Student Supercomputer Challenge held its finals between April 21 and 25 at Zhongshan University, Guangdong Province, during which China’s supercomputer Tianhe-II made its debut. Jointly hosted by the Asia Supercomputer Community, Zhongshan University and data processing provider Inspur, the ASC Student Supercomputer Challenge is one of the world’s three supercomputing competitions which require 16 teams worldwide to finish a designated four sets of calculations without exceeding a power limit of 3000W. Developed by China’s National University of Defense Technology, Tianhe-II was listed as the world’s fastest supercomputer with a peak processing speed of 54.9 petaFLOPs (thousand trillion floating point operations per second), twice the operating speed of the US Titan. NEWSCHINA I June 2014
Bewildering An elderly man from Fuzhou, Fujian Province was reportedly knocking on neighbors’ doors asking them to remain quiet after 8 PM so as not to disturb his pregnant daughter-in-law. He also unplugged the apartment complex’s Internet cable so that nobody’s Wifi would harm the development of his future grandchild. He then went so far as to dig up the entire communal space’s lawn to plant papaya trees – the fruit of which supposedly boosts breast milk production.
Poll the People On China’s eBay equivalent Taobao, paid services are offered to those who cannot visit the graves of their loved ones in person on Tombsweeping Day (April 5).
Do you think this is acceptable? No. 3,118 88.2% Yes. 330 9.3%
Amusing Three traffic cops rode a tandem bicycle to investigate a traffic jam in Jinhua, Zhejiang Province. According to the local police bureau, the officers had borrowed the bicycle because the police station’s squad cars and motorcycle were already out on patrol.
Don’t know. 87 2.5% Source: www.weibo.com
Most Circulated Post Retweeted: 682,207 Ma Yili, a supermodel and renowned actress posted the following after her husband’s infidelity became a nationwide news story.
Shocking A tower crane operator used his vast machine to collect his teammates’ boxed lunches and “deliver” them to the top of a 14-story building, rather than bothering to get out of his cab. The man, surnamed Zheng, managed to fetch four servings of hot and sour rice noodles packed in plastic bags from the noodle stall down at the base of the crane. Zheng was later disciplined by his foreman.
To fall in love is easy, but being married is not. Cherish it. NEWSCHINA I June 2014
Top Five Search Queries On
HOT? WHO’S NOT?
over the week ending April 19 Korean Ferry 120,138 The tragic loss of the vessel with hundreds of fatalities dominated news coverage. Post-90s Mortician 91,824 A video about a youthful mortician went viral online as people woke up to the unusual career choices growing in popularity among recent college graduates. Chiung Yao 50,097 Taiwan’s top romance novelist announced her retirement from a 30-year career in writing.
2014 Beijing Auto Show 37,475 The show which opened mid-April attracts millions of Chinese car aficionados each year.
Top Blogger Profile Cui Yongyuan Followers: 3,458,958 This 41-year-old talk show host is known for his natural and relaxed style. Formerly an anchor on State network CCTV, he differentiates himself from the rigid and severe style of other Chinese TV hosts on his show Tell It Like It Is, once a major network hit. After quitting CCTV, the versatile Cui went on to document an oral history of the Anti-Japanese War. He is also the most famous opponents of the spread of GMO crops in China. NEWSCHINA I June 2014
Some of the images used in this section are from the internet
Cangnan Clash 39,678 Five urban management officials or chengguan were beaten bloody by a mob after they beat a young man who attempted to use a camera phone to record their assault of a female street vendor.
A pair of young artists from Shandong Province withdrew into the Laoshan Mountains, surviving by building their own house, collecting rainwater, growing food and making their own clothes, though they managed to retain Internet access throughout.
Legless Cadres After an official from Guangxi died from alcohol poisoning while celebrating a recent promotion, the colleagues who threw the ill-fated bash were all dismissed from their posts.
Daring Cabbie A motorcycle cab driver surnamed Pei from Beihai, Guangxi, encouraged a bag-snatcher to use his services before dropping him at the local police station.
Corrupt Web Cop A Hainanese police officer responsible for Internet censorship was sentenced to 10 years in prison after receiving 700,000 yuan (US$112,210) in bribes from 11 colleagues who paid him to delete unflattering posts about their superiors.
Judicial Brain Drain
Overburdened and poorly compensated, a growing number of junior judges are quitting the bench and heading for private firms. It appears securing their return will take more than a pay bump By Xie Ying and Hua Xuan
nce upon a time, serving in China’s judiciary, along with other positions in the country’s vast bureaucracy, was seen as a prestigious career choice. Today, however, many judges, especially those serving at the county or district level, are relocating to serve as legal counsel with private law firms or major enterprises. While a low salary is a major bugbear of many bureaucrats, the reasons behind this judicial brain drain, according to observers, may be more than simply monetary. Mu Ping, president of the People’s High Court of Beijing, revealed in his 2013 work report to the local people’s congress that over 500 judges have resigned from their posts in the municipal courts over the past five years, meaning that for every four judges hired during this time period, one has quit. “A growing number of experienced young and middle-aged judges are resigning. The courts will continue to stagnate if this wave of resignations continues,” claimed Mu. Mu’s words were supported by similar statistics from his counterparts in other regions. Shanghai, for example, saw over 300 judges resign from their posts between 2008 and 2012. During the same period, Jiangsu Province lost around 1,850 judges and Guangdong Province lost 1,600. As early as 2011, Wang Shengjun, former president of China’s Supreme People’s Court, revealed that the nation’s so-called “grassroots” courts had lost of 8,781 judges from 2008 to 2010. In his work report that year, Wang described these personnel as serving in “a high-pressure but low-paying job,” warning that this overlooked branch of the judiciary was being “shaken” by the mass resignations. “The Judges Law is in urgent need of revision to cut the number of resignations,” Li Shaoping, vice president of the Supreme People’s Court, remarked at the annual session of National People’s Congress (NPC), which ended in early March.
Following the “Two Sessions” of the NPC and CPPCC, the Beijing News launched a survey of the wages paid to “grassroots” judges in the capital. The newspaper concluded that over 70 percent of those surveyed in the city center earned below 5,000 yuan (US$806) per month, less
Wu Xiangbo, a township-level judge of Guizhou Province, polishes the national emblem he uses during hearings in the field, May 2011
than the average wage of Beijing employees in 2013. In the suburbs, this percentage rose to 100. “We can neither get a mortgage nor support a family with such meager wages, let alone save for the future. How can we survive under this kind of pressure?” one respondent complained. Gao Bin, a former judge in suburban Beijing, told NewsChina that he resigned from his post two years ago, after his daughter was born. Although, according to the Judges Law, he could not serve as legal counsel within two years of submitting his resignation, he secured a job at an independent enterprise almost immediately, and now earns four times what he was paid by the State. “People have to be realistic. ‘Judge’ is a lofty title, but survival is a higher priority,” said Gao. Many other former judges tell a similar story, with poor salary their primary reason for resignation. Some also complain that, as ordinary Chinese people become increasingly legally savvy, the judiciary’s workload has increased exponentially while wages have remained stagnant. According to Wang Shengjun’s work report, the mainland courts have concluded nearly six million civil cases annually since 2008, an increase of 22.82 percent. Mu Ping’s work report revealed that the local courts in Beijing now had to close 400,000-430,000 cases per year, meaning each local judge has an average annual workload of 100 cases – all of which must be concluded. Due to the uneven distribution of both qualified personnel and resources, this workload is much higher in China’s poorer and more remote areas, with judges in several areas, according to media reports, having to hear 500-1,000 cases a year – a logistical impossibility. “Overtime has become the norm. We work day and night, including at weekends,” complained Chen Sheng, a judge from an intermediary court in Beijing. He added that grassroots judges are also immersed in a variety of administrative tasks on top of hearing cases such as writing reports and joining in activities organized by various departments. Judges’ wages, as with most official positions in China, are unrelated to workload and are instead directly tied to their official rank. According to Mu Ping, 36 percent of court personnel with the title “judge” do not actually hear cases, but are instead managers or administrators with NEWSCHINA I June 2014
Photo by IC
a comparatively light workload. However, thanks to their higher rank, they are paid vastly more than frontline judicial personnel. “I saw little chance of promotion,” former Beijing judge Feng Ying told Oriental Outlook magazine. “Several dozen judges of similar ages and with similar qualifications would have to fight for one or two openings. Everyone wanted a backroom job.”
were shot dead by a bank security guard named Zhu Jun who was angry at long delays in a court case he was involved with. Earlier that year, six judges at a district-level court in Guangxi sustained horrific burns when a defendant threw sulfuric acid over them. In both cases, the public expressed sympathy with the attackers. “At school, it was my dream to be a judge, to defend justice,” said Liu Haicheng. “When I finally got the job, I found that judges were no longer respected, and were even in physical danger.” “It is the loss of respect, plus the low wages, that pushes judges out of their jobs,” he added.
Concerned about this apparent brain drain, many delegates to the Two Sessions have called for a pay rise for judges along with incremental improvements to working conditions, only to find their suggestions vilified by a public already scandalized by official privilege. “Few workers can afford a house. Why does nobody speak for them? Why are judges so special?” said one outraged netizen in response to the report in Oriental Outlook. “Why does nobody talk about how [judges] take bribes, fleecing both defendants and plaintiffs?” “People do not trust the courts, that is why judges have to spend a lot of time explaining laws,” Beijing judge Liu Haicheng told NewsChina. “They always turn a deaf ear to us. I’m exhausted by petty disputes.” “Due to the growing exposure of judicial corruption and poor transparency in legal process, the credibility of the courts is departing farther and farther from public expectation, which has in turn impacted efficiency,” Wang Jingyong, a judge in Ji’nan, stated in a paper on judicial credibility submitted to his superiors in Beijing. According to Wang’s survey, 70 percent of respondents believed that judicial corruption in China was “very severe” or “severe,” while 50 percent believed that they would not get a fair judgment unless they bribed the presiding judge. “Declining credibility has led people to trust petitioning over the court system,” Wang’s paper concluded. Directly petitioning central authorities instead of attempting to bring a case to court – no easy task in a country which allows local authorities to determine whether or not a case goes to trial – has become a default recourse for Chinese victims of injustice. However, the number of petitions filed against judicial authorities has become a major criterion for performance evaluation, meaning that the majority of grassroots judges spend a disproportionate amount of time attempting to placate both sides in every case and avoid a petition. “If neither side is satisfied with a judgment, both defendant and plaintiff typically assume you’ve accepted bribes,” Chen Sheng told our reporter. “Every time we are accused, we have to spend hours negotiating with both parties and write pages of reports to our superiors.” “Sometimes we are also required to convince petitioners to drop their claims,” he added. “Covering all these bases screws up my work.” Being essentially reduced to the status of middleman in resolving disputes has made judges a major target of public dissatisfaction. In 2010, three judges working for a local court in Yongzhou, Hunan Province NEWSCHINA I June 2014
Many former judges echo these sentiments, claiming that the public image of grassroots judges is misinformed by the poor behavior of their superiors. Qiu Xuyu, a senior judge who resigned 15 years ago, told political journal Nanfengchuang that this was not always the case. “[Judges] maintained friendly relations with the people in the 1980s and 1990s,” she said. “We worked day and night, as do today’s judges, but the difference was that people trusted us. That was why I felt comfortable in my job, despite its hardships,” she said. “Everything changed in 2000, when the courts and court personnel became increasingly self-interested,” she continued. “Though I kept my hands clean, I could not stop my leaders from interfering in my cases. If I tried to, they’d make trouble for me.” “I believe most judges, especially the younger generation, hear their cases ‘in good conscience,’” Gao Bin told NewsChina. “We cling to our bottom line.” However, Gao and others acknowledge that grassroots judges are regularly overruled by their superiors, even when the latter has had no direct involvement in a case. “Once, I was told to impose a lighter sentence on a defendant for no reason at all. I felt disgusted, like I’d got a bug in my mouth, but wasn’t allowed to spit it out,” Gao told our reporter. The media and legal experts have long attributed this anecdotal “change of heart” in China’s judiciary as a result of the authorities making local courts answerable to local officials, as well as localizing their financial operations. In Wang Jingyong’s survey, 77 percent of respondents believed that the devolution of power from Beijing has had a negative impact on the entire judiciary. Others, meanwhile, feel that it is precisely the Chinese government’s top-down attitude to justice, depriving judges of their independence, that is corroding the country’s justice system precisely when the population is most in need of an impartial and effective judiciary. “Judges are just a tiny administrative link in the court system, which is why they have to do so much busywork,” said Gao Bin. He added that while judicial reform proposals submitted to the Two Sessions have made a lot of noise about independence, he remains concerned about the prospects for genuine judicial autonomy in China. “If [judicial independence] could be realized, I would return to the courtroom,” he said. “After all, most people aren’t only in it for the money.” (Names of judges used in this story have been changed to protect identities)
NEWSCHINA I June 2014
Divided, dissenting Well-wishers use cell phone flashlights to demonstrate support for the occupation of Taiwanâ€™s Legislative Yuan by student protestors NEWSCHINA I June 2014
Photo by AFP
The recent student protests in Taiwan have exposed the deep political rifts emerging over the issue of relations with the mainland. Where does the islandâ€™s democratic process go from here?
NEWSCHINA I June 2014
The occupation of Taiwan’s legislature by student protestors reveals the deepening rift within Taiwanese society regarding relations with the Chinese mainland By Yu Xiaodong
ince Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan’s Kuomintang (KMT), or Nationalist Party, defeated the leader of the proindependence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to become the head of the Taiwanese government in 2008, he has strengthened economic ties with the Chinese mainland by signing 21 agreements with Beijing. After winning re-election in 2012, Ma has moved to further advance political talks with the mainland with a view to sign a formal “peace treaty” with Beijing, something he has pledged to achieve during his tenure. In a historic meeting held in February, the first formal contact between Taipei and Beijing officials since 1949, the two sides agreed to establish a formal mechanism for dialog. However, recent unrest in Taiwan saw students occupy the island’s Legislative Yuan in protest at the forcing-through of a trade deal between Taipei and Beijing by the Ma administration. In such a political climate, the prospects for more robust cross-Strait relations remain uncertain.
Taiwanese protest a trade pact with the Chinese mainland by occupying the island’s Legislative Yuan, Taipei, March 19, 2014 NEWSCHINA I June 2014
Photo by AP
The student protest began with a peaceful sit-in in front of Taipei’s legislature, with leaders demanding that Ma open up his most recent trade deal with the mainland to the floor for debate, article-by-article. Their
demands rejected on a technicality, the students’ peaceful protest turned into a melee on March 18 as about 300 students scaled exterior fences before occupying the building’s main chamber, injuring one police officer in the process. The occupation soon attracted a crowd of 12,000 people who massed outside the Legislative Yuan in support of the movement. Following a week-long standoff, a second group of protestors attempted to storm the parliament building on March 23 before being dispersed by riot police. Taiwan’s media reported that more than 150 students were injured during the clash, though there were no fatalities. Undaunted and in an attempt to step up pressure on the authorities, the protestors launched a massive rally in front of the Presidential Palace on March 30. Organizers claim that as many as half a million took to the streets, while police estimated that the protest peaked with 116,000 marchers. The occupation of the legislature dragged on for another week until Speaker Wang Jin-Pyng agreed to enact a law monitoring cross-Strait agreements before presiding over debate of the trade deal. After securing this guarantee, the students dispersed, vowing to continue their protest by winning hearts and minds in Taiwanese society as a whole.
Photo by AFP
Police officers stand guard in front of the Presidential Palace in Taipei, March 30, 2014
Among the protestors’ various demands, the most striking was their insistence that the government permanently shelve the proposed Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA), one of a series of agreements already signed under the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed between Taiwan and the mainland in 2010. Accusing the KMT government of secrecy in negotiations, the protest movement warned that the pact would lead to an influx of Chinese mainland capital and labor that would overwhelm Taiwanese competitors, cause massive unemployment, threaten basic freedoms and eventually allow the mainland to annex the island by stealth. But for those who support the deal, such fears are symptomatic of an irrational “Chinaphobia” based on false information. According to a video clip circulated online in which a speaker addressed students on the issue, the audience were warned that Taiwan would see 1.6 million mainland workers arrive on the island within one year if the pact were to be approved, a very unlikely prospect given existing strict travel restrictions on mainland
visitors to the island. Even mainland tourists are subject to a quota system which caps their numbers at 4,000 a day. In a news conference held on March 23, Taiwan’s economic chief Chang Chia-juch accused the opposition of exposing the Taiwanese public to “misleading” information about the mainland. In response to accusations that the CSSTA was made in a “black box,” Chang said that the authorities held 110 consultative meetings during the negotiation process, which were followed by 144 seminars and news conferences and 20 public hearings. Chang clarified that the deal includes no clauses that would allow either temporary or permanent immigration to Taiwan from the mainland, adding that existing investment agreements with the mainland have only led to 259 individual visits by mainland investors since 2009. In response to allegations that the pact would allow the mainland to control Taiwan’s economy and undermine freedom of speech through heavy investment in industries such as telecommunications and publishing, Chang said that the pact only allowed
Police officers wait for the student demonstrators to disperse after their rally, March 19, 2014
mainland investors to hold 12 percent of a company’s shares, and would be restricted to the manufacturing sector. In the telecommunications industry, only the sector’s so-called “second tier,” characterized by “low revenue and obsolete technology,” would be opened to mainland investment. In the publishing industry, mainland investors would only be allowed to enter the printing business and would remain prohibited from starting new publishing companies or becoming majority shareholders in existNEWSCHINA I June 2014
Photo by afp Photo by AP
Student protest leader Lin Fei-fan (center left) speaks during ongoing demonstrations against a trade agreement with the Chinese mainland in front of the Presidential Palace in Taipei, March 30, 2014
ing businesses. Ma Ying-jeou also stepped in to personally shore up support for the CSSTA. In a KMT meeting held on April 2, Ma pointed out that Taiwanese exports covered by earlier agreements with the mainland have experienced a growth rate eight times faster than those not covered by these agreements, arguing that all deals inked so far with the mainland have been disproportionately advantageous to Taiwan. Professor Pan Shi-tang from Taiwan’s TamNEWSCHINA I June 2014
kang University agrees with this assessment. In exchange for the mainland’s dropping 80 investment barriers, Taiwan is only obliged to drop 64, 27 of which are already covered by earlier agreements with Beijing. This means that only 37 new access points will be opened up to mainland investment, all of which remain closely watched by Taiwanese regulators. For Pan and other supporters of the pact, the service trade deal will benefit Taiwan’s robust service industry, which will be granted access to the mainland’s huge potential market. In 2013, the service sector accounted for 70 percent of Taiwan’s GDP and employed 60 percent of its workforce. For opponents of the pact, the strength of Taiwan’s service sector is the very reason why it should be safeguarded against mainland competition. Jang Show-ling, an economist from the National Taiwan University, warned that Taiwan’s service industries, most of which are small and medium-sized, are vulnerable to influxes of capital from the mainland. Taiwan’s business community appeared to welcome the deal. 126 trade unions have signed a petition urging the students to drop
their protest. But analysts point out that the true focus of the debate is not on the economic impact of the deal, but on its political consequences. “The core of this widespread anxiety over the pact largely stems from people’s growing apprehension of the creeping economic influence of China,” writes Eric Chiou, assistant professor from Taiwan’s National Chiao Tung University in an editorial published in the Taipei Times on April 7. According to Chiou, the real concern of those opposing the pact is its potential socio-political consequences. Many fear that the mainland is seeking to use its economic power as a strategic crowbar on the island through pro-Beijing special interests groups. For those supporting closer ties with Beijing, such fears are self-defeating. Yok Muming, president of Taiwan’s New Party, a minor ally of the KMT warned that failure to ratify the pact would “marginalize and suffocate” Taiwan’s economy while Taiwan’s competitors in the region such as South Korea and Singapore benefited from favorable trade relations with Beijing. Others lash out at such assessments that compare Taiwan’s economic relations with
the Chinese mainland to those between independent nation-states as irrelevant – South Korea and Singapore, they argue, are not claimed as China’s sovereign territory. Alongside a long-simmering identity crisis, the recent unrest in Taipei also highlights the disunity within the ruling KMT despite a series of landslide victories. After winning re-election in 2012, Ma Ying-jeou’s approval rating plummeted from 65 percent to 9.2 percent in September 2013 due to several political blunders. The most serious was a failed attempt to oust Wang Jin-pyng, the KMT’s legislative caucus whip and Ma’s long-time political rival, over Wang’s alleged interference in a criminal case last September. According to a ruling from a Taipei court on 19 March, issued one day after the students stormed the island’s legislature, Wang was to retain both his party membership and his position as Speaker. The fallout from this faux-pas has cost Ma dearly, as Wang is said to have backed the protest by refusing a police request to disperse protestors from the legislature. Wang later agreed to protestors’ demands and pledged that lawmakers will not review the CSSTA until a law monitoring cross-Strait agreements is enacted, a decision that allowed the students to claim victory, and also left Ma looking powerless to determine the future of his own landmark legislation. In response, Ma urged the legislature to push through the oversight bill in order to re-establish the CSSTA center stage. But with mounting pressure from the opposition DPP and the KMT erupting into partisan squabbling, ratification looks a long way off. On April 11, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi conceded that the authorities may have to abandon the pact or “re-negotiate” with the mainland, a notion Beijing swiftly and explicitly rejected. In a news conference held on April 16, Fan Liqing, spokeswoman of the mainland’s Taiwan Affairs Office told the media that the pact has been signed by the two sides, and is therefore considered final. Now,
Photo by AP
The protests have further isolated embattled leader Ma Ying-jeou
despite strong KMT majorities in both Taiwan’s Legislative and Executive yuans, calls are growing for the embattled Ma to step down, a prospect likely to irk Beijing. The mainland has remained officially silent throughout the protest, but the looming rejection of a pact seen by many mainland officials as disproportionately generous towards Taipei has led to calls for a tougher stance on Taiwan. In the mainland’s colorful social media, some have called the pact “putting [the mainland’s] hot cheeks against [Taiwan’s] cold buttocks,” a euphemism for getting the raw end of a deal. On the other side of the Taiwan Strait, the DPP has also engaged in some serious soulsearching regarding its official position on cross-Strait relations, as many consider the student protest, allegedly initiated independently, as an indication that the DPP has lost support among the island’s youth – many of whom view Taiwan as an independent cultural and political entity and thus deserving full independence from the mainland. On April 14, current DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang and former chairman Hsieh Chang-ting both announced that they would withdraw from leadership on May 25, clearing the path for Tsai Ing-wen, the DPP’s most senior female member, to regain leadership of the party. Analysts believe that the recent student movement, despite lacking overt backing from the island’s political establishment, may have a wider-reaching impact both on cross-Strait relationship and Taiwan’s internal politics. The KMT will face a serious challenge in the next general election, currently set for 2016. NEWSCHINA I June 2014
Identity Crisis Is a student-led occupation of Taiwan’s legislature the sign of a healthy or a broken democracy? The experts are weighing in By Yu Xiaodong
he first multi-party democracy established in the greater China region, Taiwan, dubbed a “democratic window” for the Chinese-speaking world, has long been a focus of debate regarding the democratization of the entire diaspora. With five largely calm and orderly general elections under its belt, many suggest that the island is a political model for the future of greater China. At the same time, frequent brawls in Taiwan’s legislature, frequent corruption scandals – the latest involving former leader Chen Shui-bian – and an ever-widening political rift regarding the island’s identity in relation to the mainland has led many to question the maturity, if not the sustainability, of Taiwanese democracy. After staging fruitless protests against a controversial trade pact with the Chinese mainland, Taiwanese students occupied the island’s legislature for three weeks after clashing with riot police. Is this the sign of a healthy or a broken democracy?
KMT supporters scuffle with pro-DPP activists, Taipei, March 17, 2014 NEWSCHINA I June 2014
Photo by CFP
Taiwan’s authorities criticized the occupation of the Legislative Yuan to be “undemocratic.” Student protestors and their supporters claim that they were safeguarding the island’s democracy, accusing Ma Ying-jeou, head of the ruling Kuomintang (Nationalist Party), for using his party’s legislative major-
ity to force through the trade deal. “This was a direct infringement of Taiwan’s democracy,” Lin Fei-fan, a student leader told reporters outside the occupied parliament building on March 31. “If the people don’t oversee the government, that’s fake democracy and genuine dictatorship.” A major focus of the debate has been the KMT’s handling of the trade deal, which was signed between Taipei and Beijing on June 21, 2013. Under Taiwan’s current constitution, the island does not consider the Chinese mainland a separate legal country. According to Taiwan’s Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area, the trade deal with the mainland is not an international state-to-state treaty, and thus does not require legislative approval to become effective. But in the face of mass protest from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Wang Jin-pyng, President of the Legislative Yuan, conceded that the deal was in essence equivalent to a state-to-state treaty, and agreed to subject it to an “item-by-item” legislative review. It quickly became apparent that the DPP had no intention of returning the pact to committee. Instead, DPP lawmakers resorted to obstructive tactics to block legislative procedure. With no progress made for over six months, the KMT tried to use its majority to force the deal through the Legislative Yuan,
Photo by AP
Farmers in southern Taiwan. The island is increasingly divided between the older, conservative generation and a younger, more assertive political force
which led DPP lawmakers to respond by physically disrupting proceedings. Finally, on March 17, the KMT announced that the deal, which by law can be enforced by the executive branch, would automatically go into effect as it “had met no formal opposition in the legislature for over three months.” The announcement immediately triggered an escalation of student protests which had been ongoing outside the Legislative Yuan building for weeks. KMT officials accused the DPP, a party which favors full independence from China, of disregarding the democratic process by obstructing the legislature while mobilizing and coordinating protests outside parliament. The DPP accused the KMT of holding the legislature to ransom and strong-arming opposition on a deal that had major implications for Taiwan’s future.
Taiwan’s academic circles are as divided over this issue as its legislators. Chu Yun-han, a political science professor from the National Taiwan University, warned that Taiwan’s democracy has been “hijacked by populism.”
“In mature democracies, the public would not tolerate its legislature to be occupied by political protestors,” wrote Chu in a commentary published on guancha.cn, a mainland-based political analysis website. “Now in Taiwan, such acts are openly supported by opposition party lawmakers, the media and university professors.” According to Chu, the student occupation of the legislature and their demands to allow ordinary people to participate in the legislative process and subject the deal to a referendum have “undermined the legitimacy of Taiwan’s representative democracy,” putting Taiwan only “steps away from Thailand,” where violent street protests have paralyzed the national government. Huang Cheng-Yi , assistant research professor at Taiwan’s Institutum Jurisprudentiae at the Academia Sinica, however, argues that the movement is an act of “civil disobedience.” Rather than creating a crisis for Taiwan’s democracy, it presents a “constitutional moment” that allow Taiwan to reform its democratic institutions to become more balanced and representative by further clarifying the “boundaries of power” between the ex-
ecutive and the legislature. Lung Ying-tai, Taiwan’s cultural chief, a renowned writer and a long-time advocate for Taiwanese democracy also joined the debate. While recognizing the students’ organizational and communication abilities, she warned that their advocacy and actions were “full of paradoxes.” “While claiming that they are safeguarding democracy, the students have done so by violating the rule of law,” she said. “They emphasize procedural justice, but by occupying the legislature, they have violated procedural justice in an extreme way.” With the movement drawing international attention, the debate over what it signifies has gone well beyond the island. In response to an open letter on the protests issued by DPP lawmaker Hsiao Bi-khim, in which he sought international support for the movement, David Brown, an adjunct professor in China studies at John Hopkins University who serves as a board member of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), writing in the Nelson Report, criticized the DPP for its role in the crisis. Calling Taiwan a “transitional democracy,” Brown was adamant that the DPP were in the wrong. “The DPP’s problem is that the KMT, divided as it is, has a (legislative) majority, and the DPP will go to whatever lengths are necessary to block the majority when their key interests are involved or when it suits the DPP’s election mobilization goals to exploit issues for political advantage,” Brown wrote. “We [in the US] would not view the DPP’s obstruction tactics as legitimate democratic action.” Brown’s comments immediately drew reNEWSCHINA I June 2014
bukes from DPP representative to the US Joseph Wu, who said Brown had “slandered” the student-led movement and the hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets of Taipei. In comparison, the official US response to the movement has been solidly diplomatic. In answering a senator’s questions during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held on April 3, Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs described the movement as a reflection of Taiwan’s “very robust democracy with a high tolerance for the expression of political views,” though he urged protestors to use their freedom of expression “responsibly.” Many believe that the lack of overt international support, along with mounting opposition from the Taiwanese public, played an important role in leading the students to finally agree to withdraw from the legislative building on April 10, after Wang Jin-pyng, President of the Legislative Yuan, pledged to legalize the scrutiny mechanism on future cross-Strait agreements.
Despite the students’ withdrawal, the crisis is far from over, as the real issue remains to be Taiwan’s ongoing identity crisis. For many in Taiwan, its two-decade long democracy has become an integrated part of the island’s identity, the crucial factor separating its political culture from that of the mainland. For many on the island, “safeguarding democracy” is synonymous with keeping the mainland out of the island. “The real aspiration of the protesters is Taiwan’s independence,” Yok Mu-ming, President of Taiwan’s NEWSCHINA I June 2014
Photo by AP
Vendors peddle at Dihua Street, Taipei City. Many industries are concerned about the economic threat posed by the mainland
New Party, a minor ally of the KMT, told NewsChina. It is no coincidence that Lin Fei-fan and Chen Wei-ting, leaders of the student protests, are vocal advocates of Taiwanese independence. For Yok and others who support closer ties with Beijing, the protestors’ actions may in turn jeopardize the island’s democratic development. “They must be aware that President Ma was democratically elected. To defend democracy, the people should use their votes to elect lawmakers to engage in meaningful debate in the legislature, rather than resort to populism,” Yu said. But many are pessimistic that Taiwan’s identity crisis can be solved through democratic means, given the current situation in the Taiwan Strait, and Beijing’s refusal to drop the possibility of military force should the island declare independence. “It would be hard for a democracy to run smoothly in a society torn by an identity crisis, as there is no room for compromise,” argued Professor Chu Yun-han. In the past, the compromise has been “the status quo,” retaining self-government with-
out seeking either independence or reunification, something Ma Ying-jeou has repeatedly stressed since assuming power in 2008. But as Ma strengthens economic ties with Beijing and has vowed to sign a peace treaty with the mainland during his tenure, many are concerned that he is only paying lip service to the status quo, and is actually leaning towards reunification. According to Han Zhu, a research fellow at Spring and Autumn Composite Institute, a Shanghai-based think tank, democratic institutions cannot solve identity crises in developing countries, and indeed may exacerbate existing social rifts by radicalizing debate. He warned that Taiwan faces the danger to become “Ukrainized,” as it shares much commonality with Ukraine given its identity crisis, a stagnant economy and a powerful neighbor. Despite the relatively peaceful end to the occupation movement, student protestors have vowed to continue fighting. “Occupying the legislature is just the beginning,” declared student leader Lin Fei-fan, stating that now was the time to win public support. “We will come back and we will win.”
Tough at the Top Rising suicide rates within the civil service have drawn attention to the psychological pressure of being a Chinese official By Sun Zhe and Su Xiaoming
he suicide of a government official never fails to make headlines in China, though in cases where a reason is given, it’s rarely a surprise – “major depression” is inevitably to blame, at least according to official statements. At least 54 officials have reported to have died of “unnatural causes” between January 2013 and mid-April 2014, according to a report by State-owned newspaper the China Youth Daily, among which 23 were confirmed by authorities to be suicide cases. Suicide is the leading cause of death in these cases, followed by accidents, then excessive drinking – often at extravagant official banquets – each of which accounted for nine deaths. The most prominent recent suicide case is that of Xu Ye’an, a deputy-director of the State Bureau for Letters and Calls, which handles citizen petitions against injustice or official misconduct. Xu was found dead in his Beijing office early April. His name was quickly removed from the bureau’s website, but no official statement was ever released regarding his death, and no will was made public. The case, like most other official suicides, gave rise to speculation about possible corruption. This, too, was not surprising, since last
November, another deputy head of the same bureau was investigated for “serious violation of laws and regulations,” a euphemism for corruption in Party rhetoric. A source with knowledge of the matter, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the case, said Xu had been “in a bad mood” and had sometimes appeared confused in the months prior to his death, and had been diagnosed with “serious depression.” Another source close to Xu, who also declined to be identified by name, said that Xu was easy to make smile, and tended to keep a low profile. Xu was a researcher-official, and had published multiple theses on the management of the boom in petitions and complaints – in one, he criticized regional governments who try to detain petitioners making their way to Beijing. One source, a colleague of Xu’s, said that the function of the bureau was essentially to pass the buck, leaving its staff with little sense of achievement in their job, and as complaints have surged over recent years, the bureau’s officials have been confronted with mounting pressure. NEWSCHINA I June 2014
A week prior to Xu’s death, Zhou Yu, a senior police officer in Chongqing Municipality, once hailed as a hero in the crackdown on organized crime launched by Bo Xilai, Chongqing’s disgraced former Party chief, was found to have hanged himself at a local hotel. Zhou’s death was attributed to poor health and depression, but this did not stop widespread speculation that Zhou killed himself in fear of a possible investigation into the torture methods widely believed to have been used by the Chongqing police during the crackdown. The interpersonal relations in China’s officialdom, cutthroat competition for promotion and involvement in corruption were three major causes of official suicides, according to Wang Minggao, a researcher on corruption with Hunan University of Commerce. Apart from the stress of pleasing their superiors, officials also need to avoid giving their peers any chance to bring them down. Though people might agree on the direct causes of these suicides, the psychological problems of government officials are gaining increasing attention in the country. Civil servants account for one tenth of visitors at the hospital affiliated with Jinan University in Guangzhou, more than any other profession, according to a statement from the hospital’s psychiatric department. Moreover, many of these officials showed similar symptoms, the most common including insomnia, paranoia, irritability, and obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Government workers aged between 30 and 50 bear the greatest pressure, caught between family and work stress, and mid-level officials tend to be dealing with more pressure than those at the upper and lower ends of the official hierarchy, according to a survey of 3,500 public servants with ministries or the central government. Officials are also among the Chinese people most reluctant to see a psychiatrist. A psychological counseling center exclusively for civil servants in the central government receives an average of only 600 visits a year, or fewer than two per day, according to a report by Southern Weekly. Government officials, like most other Chinese people, tend to have very little knowledge of psychiatric treatment, and since privacy cannot be completely guaranteed in the Chinese healthcare system, those who do seek psychological consultation tend to do so via public telephones due to privacy concerns. For officials, the disclosure of psychological problems could be a liability, and may jeopardize their career prospects – if their colleagues were to find out, it could dent their eligibility for a higher position, since the psychological problem could be seen as a weakness. Apart from psychological treatment, government officials barely have any outlet for their stress, since close friends are a rarity for Chinese officials. “Officials get less mental support and joy from interpersonal relationships than normal people,” said Shi Zhanbiao, a researcher with China Academy of Social Sciences told Southern Weekly. “Due to their NEWSCHINA I June 2014
status, they can’t possibly have intimate personal relationships.” A survey of 2,000 central government workers found that more than one third of them have unsatisfactory interpersonal relationships, since they are reluctant to have frequent contact with friends and do not feel intimacy and trust in their lives.
Death is the End
Given the sensitivity of the suicides of government officials, researchers have long suspected such cases are severely underreported. During the first half of 2003, a total of 1,252 government officials killed themselves, according to a paper published late 2013 authored by Qi Xingfa, a researcher on Chinese governance and politics with East China Normal University, citing an insider with the Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Central Committee of the CPC, the Party’s anti-corruption arm. But the concealing of officials’ suicides, and the way that reported cases are handled, could harm the government’s credibility. It is common practice for the suicides of officials to be disclosed and to have been caused by major depression, but this often leads the public to speculate on the involvement of corruption, as nobody would believe the official statement, said Chen Youxi, a renowned lawyer, in a commentary on the suicide of Tong Zhao, a former deputy head of Zhejiang Higher People’s Court who hanged himself in his office September 2010. Chen added that the depression explanation is “convenient for all involved,” and that the deceased often “would have wanted it that way.” Chen said that another major cause of suicide is a loss of faith in the judicial system. “The better an official understands the Chinese judiciary, the more intent he would be on killing himself to avert the insults and torture preceding the oncoming investigation,” Chen said. “And the verdict is always reached before the trial opens.” “The public would speculate that a deceased official sacrificed himself to protect his family and his interests – few care whether or not he was wronged,” Chen said. However, the public has reason to doubt the motives of officials who commit suicide, since one clause in the country’s criminal procedure law stipulates that if a suspect dies, he or she will not be investigated for criminal responsibility, and the case will be dropped. This could encourage government officials to kill themselves to protect their family from a looming corruption investigation, according to Wang, the corruption researcher. “This clause has worked to drive officials involved in corruption to suicide prior to investigation, in order to preserve their reputations and those of their accomplices, as well as any illicit profits,” Wang said. Wang suggested that corruption cases should be investigated to the end, even after the suicides of involved officials, so as to prevent “altruistic suicide” in the future.
China is making moves to raise the profile of vocational education to offset the problems caused by two decades of higher education expansion By Sun Zhe
n excess of universities and a dire shortage of technical workers has driven China’s education authorities to make a bold move – converting universities into vocational schools. About 600 universities founded since 1999, or more than half the country’s total, will be shifting their focus toward vocational education, a vice-minister for education said late March, adding that vocational education would be extended to undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and colleges would be authorized to issue bachelor’s and master’s degrees, in addition to the associate diplomas vocational schools can currently award. At first glance, this appears to be a direct reversal of the last round of education reform, in which a significant proportion of these 600 institutions were upgraded from vocational schools to universities in line with the massive expansion of college admissions that commenced in 1999. The reform, dubbed the “higher education leap forward,” saw national annual college enrollment figures grow from less than one million in 1999 to about seven million in 2013.
Too Many Elites
About a quarter of college graduates failed to find a job last year, ac-
cording to a survey by the China Academy of Social Sciences. Among these, the least employable are those churned out by the institutions earmarked for conversion. Employment competition is expected to be more heated this year, as a record 7.3 million new graduates are set to flood into the job market while the Chinese economy continues to show signs of slowing down. The difficulty of finding a job and the depreciation of the value of a bachelor’s degree has been driving many students to put off their entry into the job market by continuing their studies, a phenomenon which in itself has contributed to the devaluation of Master’s degrees – annual postgraduate student enrollments nationwide have grown eightfold since 1998 to about 608,000 in 2013, with many graduates finding their master’s degrees of little worth in the job market. Unemployment of young, educated people can lead to great social risks, a lesson the Chinese government learned from the events of the Arab Spring. However, the expansion of higher education has benefited some – primarily the children of wealthy families, who are now faced with a broader range of college application options, according to Zheng Yefu, a sociologist with Peking University. “With a college diploma – a requirement for [white-collar] employment – [children of wealthy families] are more able to take advantage of their family connections to secure a job with the government or in a State-owned enterprise than those from humble backgrounds, who would have had more chance at getting those jobs before the education reform,” Zheng said. The fact that now even the academically strongest rural children struggle to secure a decent job after graduating from a good university often discourages rural parents from investing in education, leading them to encourage their children to start working at a younger age. The quality of the country’s basic education is also not helping to keep kids in school. NEWSCHINA I June 2014
“The [modern] Chinese education system, which was created in 1949, is a monolithic, top-down socialist bureaucracy, so people in Beijing design textbooks which are then used universally,” Jiang Xueqin, deputy-director of the Affiliated High School of Peking University and a long-time China education-watcher, said at the 2014 Global Education & Skills Forum in March. “The realities on the ground in far-flung regions are not reflected in the education system. That is why it is so easy for kids to drop out – they think what they learn is relevant to their future, while in reality it is not,” said Jiang. Over the past two decades, the average time spent in full-time education for Chinese adults has only increased by 2.7 years, and more than 80 percent of the country’s 160 million migrant workers have less than nine years of schooling, according to a survey by the National School of Development with Peking University. Adding to the disincentive to stay in school, salaries for migrant workers have been rising fast due to labor shortages, but their future employability is in question as national macroeconomic policy increasingly advocates industrial upgrading from a labor-intensive to a technology-intensive economy. The average schooling among Chinese migrant workers is three to four years short of that necessary for China to achieve its industrial upgrading targets, according to a report by the National School of Development – the future unemployment of migrant workers due to a lack of technical skills could pose great social risks. Moreover, the current lack of technical workers is already a problem today, and it is estimated that there is a labor shortfall of about six million people. In the manufacturing hub of Guangdong Province, factories are in such need of senior technical workers that some are paying premium rates to bring in retired Japanese workers.
If the value of college diplomas has been depreciating in recent years due to the expansion of admissions, vocational school diplomas have been worse hit – with university courses heavily oversubscribed, competition for places at vocational schools has also heated up. When education reform in 1999 caused vocational schools to lose much of their appeal, many closed down due to insufficient enrollment. Others, however, simply changed their names and were upgraded to universities in order to distance themselves from the chronic discrimination against physical labor in Chinese tradition, said Sun Meilu, a vocational education researcher with East China Normal University. The average government expenditure on a university student is twice that spent on a vocational college student, according to Sun. Since vocational colleges are mostly funded by local governments, disadvantaged areas – the major sources of China’s migrant workers – have the least incentive to invest in vocational education, since vocational graduates are highly likely to migrate to comparatively wealthy coastal areas.
NEWSCHINA I June 2014
Currently only the students with the lowest scores in China’s college entrance exam tend to consider applying to vocational colleges, and since the tuition fees are much lower than colleges, a majority of students at these schools are from poorer backgrounds. Morale at these schools is generally low, given that graduates typically end up with low-skilled or exploitative jobs such as sweatshop labor brokers. Increased prominence for vocational education would likely be of significant benefit to these schools, since at present, credits gained from vocational colleges and uni-
versities are not mutually transferrable. Vocational students are unable to transfer to universities like they can in some Western countries, including the US and Germany, and diplomas from vocational schools are currently useless when applying for coveted State-sector jobs and promotions. While education authorities have so far given no indication of an intent to grant vocational education equal status to academic education, they have announced plans to alter the college entrance exam to offer a version specifically designed for admission to vocational college. Analysts have also raised the possibility of allowing private and foreign investment into China’s vocational education market, but given the authorities’ strict control of the education system, from admissions to curriculum, this would require significant reform. Vocational education reform appears to be moving in the right direction, but the public remain skeptical – previous rounds of government-mandated adjustment, none of which have granted schools themselves any increased autonomy, have taught them a harsh lesson or two.
The absence of policies and laws governing China’s kindergartens may be to blame for a spate of medication scandals
Photo by IC
By Su Xiaoming and Du Guodong
A child stands outside the gate of the Fengyun Kindergarten, Xi’an, March 19, 2014. Following the prescription drugs scandal, some parents have sent their children back to the kindergarten, while others have decided to seek medical assistance and compensation
hina’s kindergartens have long had a reputation for not being the safest of places – physical abuse, food safety scares and a shocking string of murderous rampages by knife-wielding intruders have given parents much to worry about when they drop their kids off in the morning. Recently, yet another scandal has brought the country’s pre-schools under scrutiny: illegal administration of prescription medication. The prescription drugs were allegedly given to children – without their parents’ consent – in order to prevent the pupils from getting sick and boost attendance. The children were given ABOB, an antiviral moroxydine medicine used to treat influenza. The drug can cause side effects including sweating, muscle pain and skin rashes. The scandal came to light when a child at
the Fengyun Kindergarten in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, told his mother at the beginning of March that he would “never get sick again” because he had been “taking medicine for years.” The news quickly spread among parents, who gathered at the kindergarten demanding an explanation. Over the following days, a number of similar cases surfaced in Jilin and Hubei provinces.
Many parents at the Fengyun Kindergarten told Xinhua News Agency their children were regularly asked to eat “white, bitter-tasting tablets” that teachers told them “should be kept secret.” Parents said the drugs had given their children headaches, muscle pains and night sweats. At least 65 of the 390 children at the kindergarten showed “abnormal
results” after undergoing physical examinations at a hospital, although no direct link can be affirmed between these symptoms and the medication. Sun Zhongshi, an expert with the Ministry of Health’s national drug use monitoring system, told NewsChina that ABOB is an antiviral medicine that was on sale in the 1950s, but gradually fell out of favor due to its limited efficacy. In 2009, its production was halted, but in recent years, especially following viral outbreaks like H5N1, research into ABOB resumed. “Generally speaking, it was seen as a safe but ineffective drug that could be absorbed and discharged from the body quickly,” Sun said. “It remains uncertain whether or not there is a correlation between use of the drug and the abnormal symptoms showed by NEWSCHINA I June 2014
some school children.” He added that medical research ethics prevented children, seniors and pregnant women from being used in clinical tests, and the side effects of ABOB on children are unknown. Fengyun Kindergarten has since been shut down, and police have taken the private kindergarten’s legal representative, principal and nurse into custody. A police investigation showed that between November 2008 and October 2013, Fengyun Kindergarten had bought 54,600 pills of ABOB from four pharmaceutical wholesalers under the guises of various different medical institutions. On March 18, China’s Ministry of Education together with the National Health and Family Planning Commission ordered local governments to inspect all kindergartens, elementary and high schools, conducting comprehensive drug tests on 170 million children. Many believe that the illegal administration of prescription drugs to children was an effort to improve attendance rates to maximize income. Zhou Xiaoyin, principal of the Bitong International Bilingual Kindergarten in Beijing, told NewsChina that most kindergartens have regulations that tie a teacher’s income to attendance. If the attendance rate is above 70 percent, a teacher can be awarded 200 yuan a month (US$32). Above 80 percent, this figure can rise to 300-400 yuan (US$48-64). “The original intention of the regulation is good – to motivate teachers to treat kids better,” Zhou said. “Boosting attendance rates itself isn’t wrong, but the outcome sometimes can not justify the means.” Wang Yan, a kindergarten principal in Haidian District, Beijing, told NewsChina that it is common practice for some kindergartens to give children traditional Chinese medicine remedies, such as indigowoad root granules, in order to prevent colds, especially during outbreaks of influenza. However, Wang said that it is rare for kindergartens to administer prescription medicines without notifying parents. In March, 2011, a kindergarten in Beijing’s Tongzhou District, was reported to have given children cold medication for two days, causing a public outcry that prompted NEWSCHINA I June 2014
the Beijing Education Commission to prohibit kindergartens from administering children with any drug. Wang said that besides promoting high attendance rates to boost income, schools also administered drugs to “avoid possible conflict with parents.” She said that when a child became ill, some parents would blame the kindergarten for negligence. “Unlike public kindergartens, which receive financial support from the government, private kindergartens have to survive on their own,” she said. “To protect their reputations, private kindergartens tend to give in when at odds with aggressive parents. As a result, they medicate kids in advance to protect themselves.”
Law on the Horizon
In January 2012, the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s top macroeconomic planning body, together with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Finance, jointly issued a regulation to address problems in the system governing kindergarten fees. Regulations in several provinces and municipalities have specifically targeted the refunding of “nursery fees” – charges based on the number of days of kindergarten attended. Shaanxi and Hubei provinces had previously required their kindergartens to refund half the fees collected if a child enrolled in the kindergarten had been absent for more than half of any given month. Xia Jing, a PhD student in pre-school education at Beijing’s Capital Normal University told NewsChina the regulations were aimed at protecting the rights of parents, but because of the lack of detailed supporting policies, it is common for private kindergartens to break the rules. “Feeding kids prescription drugs is only the most extreme example,” said Xia. Several heads of private kindergartens told NewsChina that children’s seats had to be reserved when they took a sick day, and some parents would keep their children at home for several more days in order to qualify for the refund. Average attendance rate for classes of three- to four-year-olds was normally around 70 percent, but when flu
broke out, the rate plummeted to 30 percent while operating costs remained almost the same. Statistics from the Ministry of Education showed that only 1.2 to 1.6 percent of overall education grants from the government went to kindergartens, a figure lagging far behind that of developed countries. Moreover, virtually all of that funding has been focused on public kindergartens. In Beijing, for example, every child in a public kindergarten receives a subsidy of 800 to 1,200 yuan (US$129 to 193) from the government annually, while children in private kindergartens rarely receive any government support. Recent statistics showed that of China’s 180,000 kindergartens, 70 percent are privately run. In addition to funding, Xia said the lack of qualified teachers and doctors was another factor hindering the development of private kindergartens. She told NewsChina there is a dire lack of qualified doctors at kindergartens, especially private ones, because of the relatively low pay. “Many kindergartens have teachers take the job [of a doctor] after receiving just a few days of training,” she said. As early as November 11, 1989, China unveiled its first regulation on kindergarten management, which has since seen no revision, and no law has since been promulgated targeting pre-school education. Professor Pang Lijuan from the Beijing Normal University has been advocating for the introduction of a pre-school education law at the annual meetings of China’s National People’s Congress, China’s top legislative body, for the past 10 years, together with dozens of other delegates. “The government should set a baseline for pre-school spending. Economically underdeveloped areas should invest more,” Pang told China Radio International. “Besides, the law should clarify kindergarten teachers’ social identity, treatment, welfare and right to receive training.” Xia Jing told NewsChina that the drawing-up of the national pre-school law was launched last year, and is expected to be a main focus for the Ministry of Education in 2014.
No Refuge Guangzhou’s “baby hatch,” a safe spot for the abandonment of unwanted infants, has been forced to suspend operations due to overwhelming demand. But where can parents turn when state orphanages are closing their doors? By Xie Ying
Photo by CFP
Abandoned babies in the Welfare Center for Children in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, December 2013
r Lei knelt down in front of the hatch and wept, a tightly swaddled infant beside him. Having traveled from a nearby town to Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong Province, Lei had tried to deliver his 17-day-old child into the “orphan hatch,” only to find it shuttered, operations having been suspended one day earlier. “Please – the hatch was the only hope for my baby. She cannot survive with me,” he begged a security guard, to no avail. According to Lei, his daughter had a cleft palate and malformed legs, two relatively common birth defects that could not be treated on Lei’s meager migrant worker wage. “Why is the hatch closed? Is there any other way to save my daughter?” he asked the security guard, before leaving in desperation. “The hatch was overwhelmed with abandoned babies,” read a notice posted on the hatch – which consists of an incubator and a delayed alarm that alerts staff of a drop-off – on March 14, only roughly 50 days since it began operation at the end of January. According to Xu Jiu, director of the city’s Welfare Center for Children, the baby hatch had taken in a total of 262 orphans – five babies per day on average – all of whom were moderately or severely ill. “We are already short of beds. Some babies have to share a bed, which is not good for disease prevention,” Xu told Xinhua News Agency, revealing that 23 seriously ill orphans had passed away in their care. NEWSCHINA I June 2014
Photo by CFP
Nearly 35 percent of respondents believed that the hatch encouraged parents to abandon infants. The baby hatch in Nanjing is closed during the daytime
Although the Bureau of Civil Affairs in Guangzhou, the local government department in charge of orphanages, has pledged that the hatch will resume operations when “conditions are ripe,” they have neither detailed these conditions nor published a specific schedule for the re-opening. As more babies, particularly ill or disabled ones, are abandoned with no proper refuge, many doubt whether half-measures can solve the infant abandonment problem.
China’s first closed baby hatch, in Guangzhou, has cast a shadow over the 24 other baby hatches distributed across 10 pilot provinces and municipalities, most of which were built in the past two years. In order to avoid the same fate as the Guangzhou hatch, Nanjing, capital of southern Jiangsu Province, only opens its baby hatch at night, but has still failed to prevent parents from dumping unwanted babies at the hatch door during the daytime. According to Zhu Hong, director of Nanjing’s Welfare Center for Children, the hatch had taken in 140 abandoned children during its first three months of operation, approaching the total number the Welfare Center had accepted over the previous year. “We do not want to be the next Guangzhou, but we cannot promise that the hatch will never be closed,” Zhu told the media. “After all, we have to take responsibility for the babies we already have,” he added. The rising numbers of babies abandoned at the Guangzhou and Nanjing hatches has caused great public concern, with some questioning whether the hatch represented a tacit legalization of abandonment, which technically remains illegal under Chinese law. A survey conducted by the Guangming Daily, a Party-affiliated newspaper, showed that nearly 40 percent of the 1,023 offline responNEWSCHINA I June 2014
dents disapproved of the baby hatch, worrying that it would cause more babies to be abandoned. A similar result was shown in another survey in Shenzhen, a city near Guangzhou, ahead of the city’s plans to build its own baby hatch – nearly 35 percent of respondents believed that the hatch encouraged parents to abandon infants. The controversy, however, has been dismissed by the government, which has claimed that hatches in other regions, such as that in Tianjin and Inner Mongolia, have not seen any rise in the number of abandonments, but have helped reduce abandoned infant mortality rates by half, from 60 percent to 30 percent. State media have attributed the burden on the baby hatches in Guangzhou and Nanjing to the convenient transportation and comparatively high standards of medical practice in these two provincial capitals, which have attracted a great many parents from outside the two cities. “We have indeed seen a boom in the number of abandoned babies at the pilot hatches, but it is a bold trial project whose advantages outweigh its disadvantages,” Li Liguo, minister of Civil Affairs, claimed during this year’s “Two Sessions,” China’s highest-level government conferences, which ended in March.
China’s first baby hatch was set up in 2011 when Han Jinhong, then director of the Welfare Center for Children in Hebei Province took inspiration from baby hatches in foreign countries. “Hebei’s hatch was driven by the tragedy of abandoned Chinese infants,” she told the media. “Without a designated place, the parents, due to problems of conscience and fear, would generally abandon unwanted babies in concealed places like public toilets or trash cans, or even in
Photo by CFP
behind China’s infant abandonment problem, with health issues rapidly becoming the leading cause. “Data show that around 99 percent of infants in the baby hatches were ill or disabled,” Gao told NewsChina in an email interview. “Many families worry that they will be driven into poverty by hospital bills or by the huge cost of raising and educating a kid with mental disabilities,” she added.
The baby hatch in Nanjing enters use, December 10, 2013
open spaces, mostly at dawn or nighttime, leading many babies to die due to lack of timely treatment,” she said. “I fully understand the parents who put their children in the hatches, since I believe few parents would make such a decision if they could help it,” Mrs Ying, a housewife from Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang Province, told NewsChina. Six years ago, Ying’s son was born with heart failure and sent directly into intensive care. Witnessing her baby lying in an incubator for three months, she finally decided to end his treatment. “No one could understand how painful it was to give up my son, but my family could not live that way any longer. His illness had drained all of our savings,” she said. Her son’s death left such an impact on Ying that she did not dare to have her second baby until last year. While Ying’s daughter is healthy, Ying has taken out a number of private medical insurance policies. “Given that many congenital diseases are excluded from government social insurance, many people find themselves unable to bear the hospital bills for sick babies. The suspension of the baby hatches would not reduce the number of abandoned babies, but would increase the numbers found in trash cans, instead,” she said. According to Gao Yurong, director of the Children’s Welfare Center under the China Philanthropy Research Institute, serious illness or disability, illegal births (in violation of the One Child Policy) and a traditional preference for male offspring are the three major reasons
According to China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs, China was home to 615,000 orphans by the end of 2012, around 100,000 of whom were housed in government orphanages, with the remaining 500,000 adopted by relatives or unregistered individuals. On January 4, 2013, a private residence in Lankao, a county in Henan Province, caught fire, killing seven orphans who had been living there, triggering public debate about private adoption of homeless babies. Yuan Lihai, the owner of the house who had reportedly adopted over 100 orphans since 1989, came under fire as journalists photographed the poor conditions in which the children were living. Media reports revealed that Yuan had made money through her strong ties to the government and had even allegedly “sold” some babies to childless families. The revelation, however, aroused sympathy among more other people who argued that Yuan had supported so many orphans, many of whom were ill or disabled and whose treatment, daily expenses and education should have been covered by government budgets. “Yes, I tried to make money, because I needed money to feed the babies. Where were you when I was in financial difficulty?” Yuan is quoted as having said publicly. According to Chinese law, government orphanages are the only organizations legally authorized to accept abandoned children, and no individual or private organization can take responsibility for them without going through a lengthy approval process. Yet, of the 2,853 counties in China, only 64 have an orphanage. Lankao County, for example, did not build an orphanage until after the fire, despite having spent 20 million yuan (US$3.2m) on a taxation service center. “Money is just one of the requirements for building an orphanage. What we need more is a national system to ensure the others, such as land,” said Zhou Chenliang, mayor of Lankao County. NEWSCHINA I June 2014
Though Zhou was criticized for trying to shirk responsibility, his opinion was shared by Zhu Hong, head of Nanjing’s Welfare Center for Children, who told the media that besides money, more space and medical talents would be needed to accommodate the potential rise in numbers of orphans. “Due to uneven distribution of resources, orphanages differ between regions, or even districts of one city,” Liu Xiaoli told NewsChina. Liu, a Beijing resident, once combed all the downtown and suburb orphanages in the capital, trying to help her brother find a boy to adopt. “I think that is why many parents tend to abandon their babies in Guangzhou or Nanjing – they believe that the centralized resources in big cities will give their babies a better chance of survival and higher living standards,” she said.
Photo by IC
Serious illness or disability, illegal births (in violation of the One Child Policy) and a traditional preference for male offspring are the three major reasons behind China’s infant abandonment problem, with health issues rapidly becoming the leading cause.
A man is stopped by police while attempting to abandon his baby, Nanjing, February 2014
According to Liu, her brother’s family had to go through a string of complex processes and pay multiple fees before they could adopt the boy they chose from a downtown Beijing orphanage. For years, these formalities and charges have been blamed for making money from orphans, and have been deemed a cause of the country’s rising rates of child smuggling. In their defense, government orphanages say that they have to check the adopter’s qualifications, and supervise whether or not the family is taking good care of the orphan. In 2008, the Chinese government raised the allowance per orphan to 1,100 yuan (US$175) per month, only to find that some local governments, in order to lighten their burdens, used the policy to attract more families to adopt unhealthy babies, regardless of their fitness to do so. For example, Yuanping County in Shanxi Province was found to have authorized for adoption some locals who viewed adoption as a way of raising their income, and treated kids like animals, such as tying them down to prevent them running around. “Our welfare center has adopted around 2,100 children, 95 percent of whom were born with physical or mental disabilities. Given the huge input in their treatment and special care, I think only the government can ensure their rights,” Xu Jiu, director of Guangzhou’s Welfare Center for Children told State broadcaster CCTV. According to an investigative report by Children Welfare Center under the China Philanthropy Research Institute, China is estimated to have around 220,000 seriously ill children. Supposing each child NEWSCHINA I June 2014
needs 100,000 yuan (US$16,000) for annual medical treatment, the total bill would amount to 22 billion (US$350m) yuan, just a tiny fraction of the country’s medical budget. “Given China’s per capita GDP had reached US$6,700 by 2013, we think the government is fully capable of taking responsibility for the life and treatment of all the seriously ill and disabled children,” said the report. “Baby hatches are a form of humanitarian aid to protect children’s right to life, and should be promoted on a wider scale. But the root solution should be a better [national] system of child welfare,” wrote Gao Yurong, the Children’s Welfare Center director. During the “Two Sessions,” Li Liguo, the head of the Civil Affairs Ministry, has pledged to cooperate more closely with NGOs to financially help ill and disabled orphans, and to open baby hatches in more regions “based on the lessons of existing pilot hatches.” However, no detailed scheme has yet been issued, and no big city like Beijing or Shanghai has yet set up a hatch. “Orphans are a sensitive issue nationwide. It is not convenient for us to answer your questions,” the Bureau of Civil Affairs of Beijing told our reporter. At press time, the Ministry of Civil Affairs had not responded to NewsChina’s requests for interviews on the latest policy towards orphans and baby hatches.
Adoption is the Key When it comes to China’s abandoned infants, so-called “baby hatches” are only a temporary solution. China needs to relaunch its formerly highly successful international adoption programs By Sheena Macrae
NEWSCHINA I June 2014
Photo by CNS
Twins from Hunan Province visit the Chinese embassy in Britain with their adoptive British father, May 30, 2008
here is no formal mechanism in China by which parents may relinquish to the State children they cannot care for themselves. Thus, these desperate parents often resort to unlawful means – while cases of infanticide are, thankfully, now rare, abandonment, the sale of infants or simply offering children up to a childless family to raise as their own are still regularly reported. News of the inception of the baby hatch, a two-way hatched incubator built into a walled, staffed and secure room and designed for parents to relinquish babies into the care of social services anonymously was received with interest across China’s provinces. Guangzhou’s “baby safety island,” which opened in January with the cautious blessing of the authorities, has already been forced to close. The reason? Excessive demand. The story has spread worldwide, renewing debate over whether such schemes are practically and morally acceptable. Do “baby hatches” incentivize abandonment, or simply add to the methods by which parents can give up unwanted babies? While such schemes reduce the risks to the health and wellbeNEWSCHINA I June 2014
ing of abandoned infants, they certainly do nothing to support the State’s widely-publicized aim of keeping families together. The idea of “baby safety islands” or hatches, secure places where babies may be left when their families can no longer care for them, is neither new nor particular to China. In the West, churches often served this same purpose, and even today secure, discreet kiosks where unwanted infants can be left in relative safety remain operational in Germany and the USA. In countries where governments do not allow parents to openly give their children over to the care of the state, and in areas where such actions have serious repercussions for the family involved, baby hatches have become a crucial means by which infants can be placed into state care with minimal risk to all parties concerned. However, as with all issues directly related to parental responsibilities and vulnerable infants, these schemes are not without their detractors. Indeed, many still classify the use of baby hatches as just another form of abandonment.
It’s time that a light was shone on what type of care might help children thrive if they are removed from their family home and placed in institutions, foster homes, adoptive homes – or even left to fend for themselves.
It’s debatable whether baby hatches should be thought of as a contributing factor to rates of abandonment because they “fast track” unwanted infants directly into care. Such assertions tend to gloss over the usually desperate situations of families who choose to abandon a newborn. Footage taken outside the Guangzhou baby hatch is evidence of the emotional distress endured by parents forced to relinquish their child. Even more agonizing are the reactions of parents who have steeled themselves for giving up their newborn only to find the hatch locked, or themselves refused as their infant is too old. It is crucial that observers take into account what motivates Chinese parents to abandon an infant. Rarely, if ever, is a child “unwanted” in China. The strict dictats of the One Child Policy, coupled with desperate poverty, are usually the motivating factors. Parents who cannot continue to care for their children, whether due to economic or bureaucratic barriers, may be considered to be doing “the right thing” by turning an infant over to State care. Many people argue that while the outcome of leaving a child secure in the baby hatch may be emotionally “easier” on parents than simply leaving a child in the street, the end result - an infant being placed in institutional care - is not an ideal outcome for the child. While preferable to life (and death) on the streets, the quality of institutional care, especially in China, is far from a known quantity. It’s time that a light was shone on what type of care might help children thrive if they are removed from their family home and placed in institutions, foster homes, adoptive homes – or even left to fend for themselves. There are expert longitudinal studies comparing institutional life, foster care and life in an adoptive or foster family and the outcomes for the children involved. One focused on children cared for in Romanian orphanages showed that a good development outcome is considerably less likely in children cared for by institutions. However,
circumstances are somewhat improved if a child is cared for in a foster family, while the best outcomes by far were recorded where children were placed in permanent adoptive homes. How does this apply to children from Chinese institutions? International adoption, once hailed as a solution to China’s vast abandonment problem, has slowed in all cases but those of abandoned Chinese children with special needs. Within China itself, a myriad taboos surround adoption, and few couples consider it an option even when all other means to start a family have been exhausted. If Chinese nationals are unwilling to adopt, what will it take before the doors are fully opened to international families willing to offer homes to unwanted foundlings?
From the 1990s until approximately 2005, China placed many institutionalized children without special needs into adoptive homes across the globe provided said homes would impart knowledge and respect for their birth culture into adoptees. This scheme met with huge success, resulting in otherwise vulnerable children receiving both access to education systems and healthcare they could never have hoped for in China without losing touch with their birth culture. The adoptive families whose applications to adopt from China were successful had to pass many hurdles - strict income thresholds and exhaustive background checks among them. The UK government added its own checks and balances to ensure a healthy living environment for adoptees, particularly those who had suffered neglect, abuse or had emerged from institutional care with severe learning or behavioral difficulties. Children adopted from China are no different to children adopted anywhere. Loss of their birth family, and where applicable, a stay in foster or institutional care often means additional support is needed to ensure a child grows into a well-balanced adult. UK parents who NEWSCHINA I June 2014
care, and the outcome for children immediately improved.
Photo by CNS
Chinese orphans adopted by American families return to China on vacation, July 4, 2012
adopted institutionalized children from China often found that while their children very quickly became the happy focus of their lives, they also needed constant care and attention. It was quickly discovered that institutional Chinese children often found settling into family life, a state they had minimal experience of, extremely trying. Entering school, with its emphasis on rules, competition and attainment, was often an even greater challenge. Institutional life also routinely impacted motor and linguistic skills as well as emotional and social development, and parents quickly identify potential problem areas for their new child. Adoptive parents discovered that games and shared activities such as swimming and ball games often became a necessary form of fun, allowing children to gain important physical confidence in themselves and their place in the space around them â€“ confidence which often translated into stability in the classroom. Post-placement reports were sent back to China outlining how families were or were not coping. The Chinese authorities responded to these reports, and formal changes were subsequently made - with fuller details of prospective challenges made available to future parents. Institutions in China began to take suggestions from Western adoption charities on how to make subtle changes to institutional NEWSCHINA I June 2014
There are hundreds of Chinese children growing up in adoptive homes in the UK, and both countries hope they are doing so knowing they are loved and valued family members. The challenge tends to come when their adoptive families undertake the task they were charged with by the Chinese government - making their children aware of their cultural roots. This is not as simple as return trips to China on heritage tours or taking a tai chi bootcamp. Personal, low-key and private family trips to China are the only way through which these adopted children, who have been raised to be British, can gain any insight into their birth culture. Part of this process is also being offered as much information about their abandonment and birth family as is possible, providing the child wishes to acquire such information. Children wishing to know their birth parents should have the right to seek them out. Another factor is teaching these children how to unpick bias against their birth culture, whether institutional (in school), cultural (in the media) or social (racism), and react appropriately. Having adoptive parents attuned to such potential flashpoints is invaluable to developing this sense of cultural awareness. Only knowledge, perspective and critical thinking will allow these former foundlings to forge their own unique, multicultural identity. My family has two adopted daughters from China at its centre. Their journey (and ours as parents) to emotional and physical balance has been long, but they have grown into two open, thoughtful and well-balanced young women with realistic goals and every hope of achieving them. Roots are important, but more important is the path an individual is set upon. ďƒŞ
(Sheena Macrae served as an Adoption Panel member for the Childrenâ€™s Services of Surrey County Council, UK and an editor at EMK Press)
Putting Values Aside With an apparent shared vision for a multilateral world order, and with minimal strategic rivalry, shouldn’t it be easy for China and the EU to resolve the “soft” issues hampering their partnership? By Li Jia
hang Han, a 21-year old college junior majoring in engineering at Beihang University in Beijing, looks forward to his visit to Spain as an exchange student later this year. He closely followed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to several EU countries and the EU headquarters in Brussels. Personal experience and observation of political messages, he hopes, will prepare him to “adapt to a very different culture and society” in his planned PhD studies in the EU or US, he told NewsChina. Exchanges of students, tourists and goods have served as natural bonds between the world’s largest single market and its largest
emerging market. The EU plans to streamline visa procedures to attract more Chinese tourists, who in the EU outnumber tourists from any other region. China-EU trade value is second only to that between the EU and the US. Just before Xi’s visit, the two sides settled major trade disputes and launched first-round talks to exploit the huge potential of mutual investment, currently a relatively small figure. Dozens of trade and investment deals from agriculture to airplanes were signed during Xi’s visit. Close business ties have not led to the strategic partnership the two sides envisaged more than a decade ago. It seems that China
is trying to change this. Xi is the first Chinese head of state to visit the EU headquarters. In China’s second policy paper regarding the EU issued immediately following Xi’s visit, the EU is described as part of China’s “new type of major power relations,” a term that previously had referred exclusively to SinoUS relations. A partnership for peace stands at the top of the policy paper. “The new era adds new strategic dimensions to ChinaEurope friendship and cooperation,” wrote Xi Jinping in an article in Le Soir, a Belgian newspaper, on March 29. All of these have been widely interpreted as indications that China is attaching more importance than NEWSCHINA I June 2014
Photo by Xinhua
Chinese President Xi Jinping (front row, fourth from left) with world leaders during the third Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, Netherlands, March 25, 2014
ever to the EU as a political partner, though the EU has a long way to go with its own political integration. Meanwhile, Xi sent a strong message in his speeches and articles during his trip that China has its own development path and values. The policy paper states clearly that China expects the partnership with the EU to “set an example of different civilizations seeking harmony without uniformity.” This is a clear response to the EU’s long strategy of attempting to co-opt China into a Westernstyle political system by integrating China into the global economic framework shaped by Western rules. Nearly all the political rows NEWSCHINA I June 2014
between the two sides have been triggered by their divisions on growth paths and values.
Strategic Global Players
In terms of partnerships, it is hard to define what “strategic” actually means – very often it is referred to in a political or even military sense. A widely shared view among Chinese and international analysts is that this facet of the China-EU partnership has more of an impact on global governance than on bilateral relations. Since the Lisbon Treaty became effective in 2010, the EU has moved forward towards being a “unified voice” on international af-
fairs. It has a president and a foreign minister. Seats for EU representatives are secured at all international conferences. The EU is coordinating nuclear talks between the six powers (the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany) and Iran. Recently the EU, as an independent party, reached an agreement with the US, Russia and Ukraine on the latter’s sovereignty crisis. Apparently making the EU part of China’s new major power relations strategy shows China’s recognition and support of the EU’s progress on political integration, and the EU’s role as an independent international political actor with significant influence.
Photo by Xinhua
Photo by Xinhua
The shared China-EU vision and experience in rule-making to for a multi-polar world seems become a “pathfinder in defining to underline this. In his recent new rules and shaping the world speech at Beihang University, ahead.” Michel Malherbe, Belgian amIn the aftermath of the global bassador to Beijing, said that the financial crisis, China’s much EU wants a multi-polar world in faster growth, fueled by strong which both the EU and China State intervention in the market, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan with Dutch are major forces. “The consensus King Willem-Alexander, Queen Maxima and former Queen Beatrix in has aroused debate in the West between China and the EU on Amsterdam, the Netherlands, March 22, 2014 concerning the attractiveness of opposition to the dominance of an economic model based on any single power in international Western-style democracy and the politics facilitates their mutual unfree market in the eyes of other derstanding,” noted Professor Shi developing economies. Chinese Yinhong with Renmin University analysts have claimed this concern of China. Nearly all their policy has become a new incarnation of papers towards each other and the the “China Threat,” particularly China-EU joint statements on in Europe, whose power and fortheir annual summits have meneign policy is built much more on tioned their convergence on mulEuropeans’ confidence in their potilateralism. litical systems and values than on Indeed, the China-EU stratetheir military power. gic partnership was established in The EU has implemented a pol2003 after the US-led invasion icy of engagement towards China of Iraq. France and Germany, Xi Jinping and Peng Liyuan with young Chinese soccer players since the mid-1990s in view not and their German peers from the Wolfsburg club in Berlin, the primary agenda-setting pow- Germany, March 29, 2014 only of further opening China’s ers within the EU, took similar market, but of promoting China’s stances to China’s, opposing the economic and political reform. war and US unilateralism. This The European Commission reis an important reason for the “China-EU Pacific region, China’s doorstep, and the his- peatedly stressed in all its China policy papers honeymoon” that ensued after the Iraq War, torical mistrust between an existing and an that values-related reasons are behind the EU’s according to the Blue Book of China-EU Rela- ascendant power. strong support of China’s integration into the tions released recently by the Chinese AcadIn strengthening ties with the EU, China world economy based on Western rules. emy of Social Sciences. does not intend to hedge against the US, The EU and its member states have kept The lack of significant strategic rivalry be- argues Shi, but reduce diplomatic pressure, up dialog on and criticism of China’s human tween China and the EU also explains why especially if strategic tensions with the US rights record. Nearly every case that resulted their strategic partnership is built upon more continue to escalate, or Beijing’s relations in the freezing of China’s relations with major common ground in global rather than bi- with neighboring countries become more EU member states or the EU as a whole has lateral agendas. All the extant problems be- complicated. been triggered by the EU’s criticism of Chitween China and the EU, including trade na’s human rights record or European leaders’ disputes and ideological differences, as Pro- Thorn in the (Soft) Side meetings with the Dalai Lama. fessor Shi told NewsChina, are also evident The biggest lingering headache between The values issue is even a bone of contenin Sino-US relations. However, there is an China and the EU lies in a relatively soft is- tion on the common ground of multilaterabsence of what he described as “significant sue. A report by UK-based think tank Cha- alism. The EU’s vision for a multilateralismstrategic worries” like those that exist between tham House in December 2013, at the re- based world order goes beyond inter-state China and the US due to their concerns over quest of the European Commission, stressed relations into the realm of social and political each other’s military deployment in the Asia- that the EU’s future would lie in its strength reforms, and human rights, while sovereignty
NEWSCHINA I June 2014
and non-intervention are China’s principles. This division has been evident in their differences in dealing with international and regional security issues like Iran and Syria, though both sides outwardly prefer political to military solutions. By integrating into the world market, however, China has not only begun to adopt the identity of rule-maker, but it has done so while espousing different values. According to a statement by China’s Foreign Ministry on April 2 on its web site, Wang Yi, China’s Foreign Minister, stressed that Xi Jinping expressed clearly in his speeches and articles during the European trip China’s confidence in her own model of development, and called for understanding from the rest of the world.
NEWSCHINA I June 2014
Photo by Xinhua
tion. However, he added, it would be more difficult for the EU to accept China as a new rule maker in reforming existing rules, such as trade. There is wide concern among Chinese analysts that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations would become another game in which Europe and the US again lead rule making for the future management of world trade. The US factor may further complicate China-EU relations both in terms of values and in the strategic sphere. The CASS report noted that even though the exposure of Prism, the US’ secret program of surveillance, including of her European allies, has undermined trans-Atlantic trust, mutual confidence between Western powers remains stronger than that beHow Hard? tween China and the EU, largely Analysts are divided on whether Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Monument to the Unknown Soldier in Brussels, Belgium, March 30, 2014 because of common values. a China-EU divergence on soft isChinese analysts generally do sues is easier to deal with than a dinot think the US would like to see vergence on hard ones, or whether closer China-EU economic and the EU would be more willing to accept China as a new rule-maker with dif- rector of the China-Britain Business Coun- political ties. So far the US has successfully ferent values. cil, told NewsChina, many Europeans believe blocked EU attempts to remove the EU arms Professor Zhang Jian, Director of Europe- there must be something right about China’s embargo against China which has been effecan Studies with the China Institute of Con- growth model, even though they have not tive for more than 20 years. However, this US mentality is generally thought to be natural temporary International Relations, has seen fully figured out exactly what that is. Secondly, China’s rise has also enhanced its in international power relations. The EU, for more reasons for optimism. Neither China nor the EU, he told NewsChina, would al- ability to act as a rule-maker in international example, felt nervous when the concept of low value clashes to fundamentally hinder economic governance. This ability is the basis the G2, a world under China-US leadership, the growth of their strategic partnership, to for any participation in and cooperation on was proposed by some international analysts which unprecedented significance has been rule making, though it may also mean more in 2009. In order to appease the EU, Chinese leaders dismissed the notion. competition. attached. Geopolitics, never lacking in unrest and “Compared with the US, China regards Two other changes he mentioned also consolidated this confidence. Firstly, the euro the EU as a partner that is easier and more change, will provide more than enough opportunities to test the China-EU strategic debt crisis has narrowed the economic gap ready to communicate with,” he added. Shi Yinhong has noticed that the EU has partnership as global players. However, the between China and Europe, prompting Europeans to reflect on their own growth model actually shown willingness to work with lack of mutual understanding of their cultures and rethink China’s in a more positive way China on making rules on new issues, such and societies among ordinary people will be than ever. As Mike Dethick, Executive Di- as climate change and nuclear non-prolifera- the biggest challenge in this endeavor.
The Price of Pollution China has created the world’s second largest carbon market and granted subsidies to renewable energy initiatives. Will putting a price on pollution prove a breath of fresh air? By Li Jia
ith its all-important economy slowing down, and its showpiece cities shrouded in smog, the shine is swiftly coming off the China miracle. Nevertheless, according to a decision on climate change published March 21 by the State Council, both worsening air pollution and the economic downturn could be tackled by a “more market-based” strategy to incrementally reduce the country’s carbon emissions. China is quickly becoming the world’s largest market for technology designed to allow ordinary people to cope with abysmal air pollution. Specialized facemasks, water and air purifiers are swiftly overtaking flatscreen TVs as the must-have item in urban homes. Now, the government is seeking to use such market forces more comprehensively – incentivizing citizens, enterprises and industry to cut their carbon footprint. Households using solar panels have received energy subsidies. In the 10 months that have passed since mid-2013, six carbon trading floors have been in operation nationwide, setting strict emissions standards second only to those imposed by the EU. Now, there is talk of initiating a centralized, national carbon floor. The Ministry of Finance confirmed in March that legislation on a carbon tax will be fast-tracked
this year. Analysts and government officials predicted hundreds of billions of US dollars would be invested into the environmental protection market. While all this looks good on paper, however, the particulate haze wreathing China’s cities, and daily reports of egregious abuses of environmental protection laws by industrial concerns, businesses and private citizens, all suggest that turning legislation into enforceable reality is going to be a tough battle. Turning that reality into economic growth will be even more tortuous. The environmental protection market did not appear on its own. Its inception was guaranteed by quantitative incentives and penalties imposed by the government. Its success will not be possible without reliable, transparent data collected by the government or dependable institutions. It appears that before Beijing’s smog will be dispersed by the marketplace, some of the mist surrounding the marketplace itself needs to be cleared.
Energy intensity, that is, energy in terms of tons of standard coal equivalent (or TCE) consumed for every US$1,600 added to national GDP, is the target of China’s emissions policy. In 2005, the central government pledged to reduce this figure by 40 to 50 per-
cent by 2015. China has long been criticized internationally for insisting on using this relative indicator rather than giving an absolute ceiling on total energy consumption, as the two figures sometimes move in different ways. According to the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), China’s foremost macroeconomic agency, the country’s primary energy consumption rose by 38 percent in the years 2006-2010, though energy intensity fell 19 percent compared with the previous five years. The NDRC’s 2013 plan finally set a national cap at 4 billion TCE. To implement this target, the cities of Beijing and Tianjin, along with Shandong and Hebei provinces, were required to reduce net coal consumption by 17 million metric tons in 2014. Coal is the biggest energy source in China. This was the first time that maximum carbon emissions in the jurisdictions of China’s local governments had been effectively constrained by a central policy. All previous attempts had failed, as local administrations, desperate to meet central GDP targets, steamrollered any and all attempts to reduce emissions in a relentless pursuit of economic expansion. In the Annual Review of Low-Carbon Development in China released in March by the Climate Policy Institute of Tsinghua UniNEWSCHINA I June 2014
Photo by cfp
Feng Lin, a resident in Changzhi City, Shanxi Province, installs solar panels on the roof of his house, June 25, 2013
versity, the deep concerns and frustrations expressed by the Chinese public over the problem of heavy smog had, according to the authors, “turned an environmental issue into a political one.” With Nimbyism on the rise, the central government was forced to take decisive action. An absolute ceiling for emissions is widely agreed to be an essential foundation for the widely adopted cap-and-trade model in the world’s major carbon markets. As Professor Qi Ye, director of the Institute, told NewsChina, Beijing found that reliance on an administrative hierarchy to improve energy efNEWSCHINA I June 2014
ficiency was no longer effective or efficient in China’s more market-based economy. Consequently, the market would have to play a part in all future environmental initiatives. Seven areas in China appeared on the first list of operational national carbon markets in 2011. Six of them, Shenzhen, Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Guangdong and Hubei, opened in rapid succession between June 2013 and April 2014. Chongqing Municipality’s own carbon market will go online later this year. More than 2,000 enterprises, mainly in energy-intensive sectors, have been granted
1.1 billion TCE carbon allowances in these six areas, a volume more than half that in the 2013 cap enforced by the EU Emission Trading System (ETS). A small part can be offset by renewable energy projects of those companies. Guangdong and Hubei individually have larger carbon markets than California’s voluntary carbon exchange – for years the world’s second largest. Trading on these markets, despite their relative size, has remained light, but has been on the rise since February 2014, as the first round of government-issued carbon allowances will expire in June. Those who fail to
Photo by CNS
A gas pipeline laid in Luoyang, Henan Province, part of China’s West-East Gas Transmission Project from Xinjiang to Shanghai and Guangdong Province, August 17, 2010
give up their allowances by June will face steep fines. On April 2, Sun Cuihua, a senior official with the NDRC, said at a forum in Wuhan that rules for a national market would be drafted this year. There are some indications that a national carbon trading market means business opportunities. Ding Ying, managing director of Climate Solution, a Beijing-based consultancy, is anticipating a boom year. Eager to have a head start, Ernst & Young, an international
consultancy, has set up a marketing team to encourage enterprises to restructure internal management to fit the new requirements. However, how such business opportunities can be realized is open to question.
Professor Qi is less than optimistic about the prospect of a national carbon exchange. As an example, the EU ETS, he explained to NewsChina, is far from a paragon. Ac-
cording to the European Union, artificially low prices due to excessive allowances have drained investor interest. In 2007, the price even dropped down to zero. The ensuing financial crisis plunged the market into virtual hibernation, and its future remains in the balance. In a country like China, with its poorlyregulated economy and immature business environment still dominated by State-owned enterprises, the possibility of success of a finely-balanced carbon market is hard to predict. This is exactly what concerns domestic market players. Besides concerns over excessive allowances, there are doubts about the reliability of nationally-collected emissions data which determines supply, demand and pricing. Independent third-party verification is crucial to establishing trust in the market. However, the integrity of government-approved institutions has never carried much weight with the business community. Ding told NewsChina that at least two or three of these nominally independent institutions in Beijing were also providing consultancy services for enterprises looking to join the carbon markets, making them “both athletes and referees.” With the government keeping all data collection institutions not under its direct control on a tight leash, and in most cases reserving the right to withhold information from the public, building faith in something as data-centric as a carbon exchange looks unlikely. Dr Philip Andrews-Speed, Principal Fellow and Head of the Energy Security Division at the National University of Singapore, has been studying China’s energy sector for decades. He agrees that market tools, rather than administrative ones, need to play a bigger role in today’s China. However, as Dr Andrews-Speed told NewsChina, it is difficult to say how competitive NEWSCHINA I June 2014
carbon market prices can be when there is no competitive energy market in China. Stateowned enterprises are both major producers and users of energy, with prices entirely controlled by the government, making the energy sector extremely resistant to the introduction of market forces. When it comes to emissions reduction, Professor Qi thinks that mere costs, either through fines or the introduction of carbon allowances, are probably less effective than administrative pressure when it comes to reining in big SOEs, especially when such costs are easily offset by increased profits in other areas. Private enterprises, meanwhile, generally in precarious market positions, have even less incentive to participate, as few can tolerate any extended dent in their profits, especially without a guarantee of future benefit. Some analysts, therefore, feel that China needs to think smaller if it is to genuinely tackle its pollution problem.
In 2013, homeowner Ren Kai received a letter from the local government informing him that the solar panels on his house in Shunyi, a suburb of Beijing, qualified him for an energy subsidy. As the first private home with solar panels that were connected to the State Grid, Ren was able to establish his own company helping other private citizens to benefit from these subsidies. The launch of this grassroots market has, in some analyses, saved China’s solar panel industry from implosion. Several listed companies have recently reported profits after years of heavy losses stemming from anti-dumping embargoes imposed by the EU and US, formerly their only major markets. In China, solar power stations are mainly located in the less developed northwestern
NEWSCHINA I June 2014
regions, areas with an extant overcapacity problem, and few are efficiently connected to the State Grid. Now, the government has finally realized the potential of homeowners generating their own power. The government subsequently announced plans to double its annual increase in solar power capacity in 2014. However, progress has been slow so far. Subsidies for private solar power remain well below those offered to State-run solar plants, a major disincentive that experts are insisting must change. At the end of March, during a forum in Beijing, Wang Sicheng, a researcher with the NDRC, recognized that the government had to adjust the policy to attract more investment. According to the China Securities Journal, low returns and the logistical difficulty of connecting private solar panels into the State Grid are hampering efforts to increase capacity. Ren told NewsChina it will take him ten years to recoup his costs, and this was long enough to deter visitors to his house who were considering to do the same. His clients in other provinces, he continued, were being asked to meet standards typically applied to coal-fired power stations or hydroelectric plants, or show property ownership certification that is not available for rural residents. Behind these barriers, Ren and analysts argue, lies the two State-owned grids’ distaste for competition after decades of a complete monopoly on power supply. Citizens generating their own energy or, even worse, selling it back to suppliers, eats into the market share of State-owned grids. They are also likely concerned that the introduction of these, albeit minor, new players might destabilize government-controlled pricing, forcing them to lower rates in order to remain competitive. In addition, executives are comfortable with the easy profits secured by their State-
backed monopoly and price controls. They don’t have the motivation to invest in managing unstable wind or solar power energy resources. In the current structure, there are only two players in the power supply chain - producers and retailers. Both are currently monopolized by SOEs. Repeated attempts to open the power generation market and sell to private companies have been blocked by these interests, and their advocates in government. Big energy companies have been investing heavily in synthetic natural gas projects, gas produced from coal, buoyed by the perception that gas is somehow more “green” than coal. However, the Tsinghua report presents evidence that gas produced through these methods consumes vast volumes of both coal and water, thus causing both more water wastage and greater carbon emissions than coal burning. Moreover, natural gas produced in China is mostly transported to big cities like Beijing when used to generate power. However, existing gas-fired power stations are generally so poorly designed that they produce similar volumes of air pollution as their coal-fired equivalents. Environmental researchers are advising the government to use clean coal technology that is already available, pointing out that the appeal of this kind of natural gas is its higher price tag, not its green credentials. For many, this is proof that market forces, while effectively locked out of the power generation process, still remain the primary consideration when it comes to selling power to the Chinese public. Until this imbalance is directly addressed by both the central government and the enterprises under its control, China’s environmental policies, like the country’s urban centers, will remain under a cloud.
Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba Group at a conference in Hong Kong, 2012
Photo by IC
NEWSCHINA I June 2014
Market Estimations Chinese e-commerce monolith Alibaba has ended months of speculation by announcing its decision to make an IPO in the US, but the guessing game continues By Chen Jiying
The news was out as soon as the decision was made,” a source with knowledge of Alibaba Group’s IPO told NewsChina on March 18. Two days earlier, on March 16, Alibaba, one of China’s largest ecommerce companies, announced its decision to go public in the United States. Some analysts speculated that the real goal was to use this highprofile announcement to put pressure on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, in order to force long-discussed regulatory changes that would allow Alibaba to list in Hong Kong with minimal hassle. Yet five months earlier, Jack Ma, Alibaba’s founder and chairman, told the Hong Kong media: “If we go public in the United States, we will never go back to Hong Kong. We would rather go to the mainland.”
“Fear of Commitment”
Jack Ma has often expressed hesitance to take his company public. “Going public is like marriage. Our company was married, but
NEWSCHINA I June 2014
later got divorced – we were listed in Hong Kong, but later de-listed. Those who have never married look forward to it, but we have a fear of commitment. As long as we can avoid it, we will not go public,” he told the media last year, also citing an “increase of unpredictable pressure” as a reason. According to Zeng Ming, Alibaba’s chief strategy officer, listing in the US will require the company to publish regular financial reports – an issue that may displease Alibaba’s investors, many of whom place disproportionately large importance on the company’s shortterm performance. “The conflict between short-sighted investor behavior and companies’ long-term growth has become one of the biggest problems between modern enterprises and capital markets,” said Zeng Ming. However, going public might be the best way for investors to cash out. Currently, Alibaba’s major shareholders are Yahoo and Japanese telecommunications company Softbank, who hold 24 and 31.9 percent of Alibaba shares respectively. Other investors include China
Investment Corporation (CIC), CITIC Capital, Boyu Capital, and CDB Capital, holding 10 percent in total. An insider told NewsChina that in order to encourage Alibaba to go public, Yahoo and Alibaba signed an agreement in 2012 that if Alibaba were to list before the end of 2015, Alibaba would have the right to repurchase half of Yahoo’s holding of its shares. The source explained: “It was an incentive clause rather than a restrictive one, meaning that the earlier Alibaba goes public, the cheaper the share repurchase price will be.” In the long run, Alibaba’s share price has considerable potential to rise, so early repurchase means low capital cost. But now, Yahoo appears to be planning to hold on to Alibaba shares for the long run. Last October, the two made an adjustment to their agreement, cutting Yahoo’s maximum holding saleable to Alibaba upon its IPO from 261.5 million to 208 million shares. According to sources, Alibaba has become such a large corporation that going public is inevitable. In the first 11 months of 2012, Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms Taobao and T-Mall reported more than 1 trillion yuan (US$161bn) in total revenue, equivalent to 5 percent of total retail sales of consumer products in China, or around 2 percent of China’s GDP. Alibaba Group says it will continue to develop its overseas business. US mobile instant messaging and voice call app company Tango announced on March 20 that Alibaba would invest US$215 million to buy a small number of the company’s shares. As Alibaba goes overseas, it will face rivalry from competitors in the United States and other countries. Analysts believe that the company’s comparative lack of transparency will put it at a disadvantage when competing overseas, a situation that may be exacerbated by the involvement of State-owned investors like CIC – many of which are known for their murky accounting practices – who bought Alibaba shares in 2012. However, going public may alleviate this risk.
Destination: Hong Kong
After the decision to go public was made, Alibaba had to choose a location. Sources told NewsChina that Alibaba not only contacted Nasdaq, the NYSE, and the HKE, but also talked to stock markets in Europe. However, few of these yielded much potential. Vice Dean Liu Shengjun of CEIBS Lujiazui International Finance Research Center (CLFC) told NewsChina that besides the fact that Alibaba Group would need to raise an astronomical figure in funds, Jack Ma also insists on a partnership system, whereby the company CEO must be voted for by the company’s partners. Any potential market for Alibaba must cater to these two conditions, leaving only two places: the United States and Hong Kong. In fact, Hong Kong, not the US, was Alibaba’s first choice for its IPO location. However, though the HKE last year seemed willing to discuss the possibility of changing its regulations to allow for partner-
ships, the process had been extremely slow. A source told NewsChina that “although Alibaba only announced their decision to go public in America recently, many of the company’s senior executives had been focusing on the US since last October.”
Next Stop: USA
According to a Reuters report, Alibaba Group will hold a discussion panel in Hong Kong on March 25 to discuss its American IPO with six underwriters. Yet it remains unclear whether Alibaba will choose to list on the NYSE or the Nasdaq. Analysts estimate the company will have a market cap worth US$150 billion, and that its IPO volume could be as high as US$16 billion, exceeding that of Facebook in 2012. Such a huge volume is extremely attractive to both stock markets. Many Fortune 500 companies choose to list on the NYSE, which has a history of more than 200 years and strict IPO restrictions. Meanwhile, the Nasdaq was founded in 1971, with more flexible regulations, and has attracted a large group of hi-tech growth companies, such as Facebook, and China’s web search market leader Baidu. Previous reports had indicated that Alibaba would be more likely to opt for the NYSE. Xu Guangxun, former chief representative at the Nasdaq’s Beijing office, said: “Alibaba is a large company, and the NYSE is filled with many large corporations, so it is very likely [that Alibaba will list there].” Alibaba has declined to comment on the speculation. Another problem for Alibaba in the US will be brand recognition in the market. The Wall Street Journal explained Alibaba to its US readers as “a mix of Amazon, eBay and PayPal, with a dash of Google thrown in, all with some uniquely Chinese characteristics.” E-commerce platforms under Alibaba’s control have exceeded Amazon and eBay in aggregate trading. But analysts told NewsChina that since institutional investors account for 90 percent of total investors in America’s stock markets, their professionalism and expertise would compensate for Alibaba’s lack of prominence with ordinary Americans. The Wall Street Journal also pointed out that Alibaba’s lack of information transparency will likely be another problem in the US: “Alibaba’s listing implies the need to turn over books containing valuable data on the Chinese economy to US regulators. That might make Chinese officials uneasy.” In an interview last October, Jack Ma denied that this was a significant issue. “No government organ or official is imposing pressure on me, either implicitly or explicitly,” he said, adding that the presence of American military enterprises in the securities market was evidence that disclosure was limited to “transparency of financial information, rather than business information.”
So Near, Yet So Far
It is worth mentioning that the US isn’t Alibaba’s endgame. NEWSCHINA I June 2014
bynumbers In a company statement, Alibaba said: “We will try to return to the domestic capital market if future conditions allow, and share with domestic investors our company’s growth.” Jack Ma has said that since “the Chinese market fostered Taobao and Alibaba,” the mainland’s A-share market would be his preference for an IPO location. However, Alibaba contains foreign capital, and the mainland market does not allow foreignfunded companies to list. Also, the mainland A-share market’s principle of giving equal rights to all shareholders also conflicts with Jack Ma’s preference for a partnership system. “This cake was made in China, but it has been given to the Americans as a gift,” a mainland stockbroker, speaking on condition of anonymity, told NewsChina on March 20. According to analysts, Alibaba will pay nearly US$400 million to Wall Street investment banks for IPO guidance. Chinese stock investors may also be upset. Liu Shengjun, of CLFC, said the participation of Chinese consumers contributed to the making of commercial miracles such as Alibaba and Tencent, but those same consumers have missed out on the chance to become stockholders in these companies. “It is a pity for the country,” he said. “Entry to the Chinese stock market should be more diversified and allow hi-tech companies such as Alibaba an opportunity to go public. This will allow Chinese stock investors to share in their rapidly growing dividends,” Xu Guangxun commented. Liu Shengjun believes that Alibaba’s potential return to the mainland stock market – which he said would likely be in the company’s best interests – will require rapid reform. First, Alibaba’s main business is in the Chinese mainland, meaning that it will not face exchange rate risks if it finances in Chinese yuan. Second, the dividend ratio in the mainland market is higher than that in the US, at least for the time being. If Alibaba has a chance, Liu said, it will be willing to give the mainland a shot. NEWSCHINA I June 2014
March 2014 index of nominal effective exchange rate of the Chinese yuan against a basket of currencies including the euro, the US dollar and the Japanese yen, the second lowest index in 11 months.
116 112 108 104 100
Source: Bank of International Settlement
The box office share held by imported movies in Q1 2014, compared with 45 percent in Q1 2013.
Year-on-year change (%) Retail sales (CPIweighted)
Housing (square footage)
Financing (non-financial companies)
China’s GDP growth in Q1 2014, the lowest rate since Q2 2012.
Source: State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television of China
Source: National Bureau of Statistics
The world ranking of China’s commercial service imports in 2013, meaning China’s imports in this sector have overtaken Germany’s. China’s commercial services trade value in 2013 stood at US$539.6bn. Source: World Trade Organization
QFII (Qualified foreign institutional investors US$53.6 bn
Total value of foreign enterprises’ portfolio investment quotas approved by China as of March 28, 2014 Source: State Administration of Foreign Exchange of China
RQFII (yuan-denominated QFII): US$32.5bn QDII (destinations for Chinese outbound portfolio investment) US$86.6bn 0
Voice How a biography of Chiang Kai-shek, commissioned by Chairman Mao, might be one of the greatest stories never told on the Chinese mainland By Xu Tian
Various Chiang Kai-shek biographies published on the mainland
ne day in the early fall of 1966, at the height of the Cultural Revolution, Chen Zheng was forced to make some heartbreaking decisions. The next morning, Mao’s Red Guards would come to his bookstore to po sijiu – smash the Four Olds of old ideas, old culture, old customs and old habits. For Chen, that meant pretty much anything he had in his office. The 29-year-old editor of the Zhonghua Book Company maintained an office in western Beijing which was piled floor-to-ceiling with suddenly-prohibited materials, including an entire bookcase dedicated to China’s former head of state Chiang Kai-shek. Chen was also in possession of the 12-million-character transcript of a book of Chiang’s collected speeches and musings, edited by Chen himself. The Red Guards were notoriously unpredictable. Depending on what band arrived to perform the “inspection,” or even what mood their ringleaders were in, victims could suffer anything from a minor verbal reprimand to public humiliation to torture and death. During
the bloodiest months of the Four Olds campaign, booksellers, art collectors and academics had been paraded through the streets, harangued in urban squares, starved, tortured to death and executed. As Chen recalled the terror he felt that day to NewsChina, he wrung his hands. “What could I do?” Chen couldn’t bring himself to destroy his priceless collection, even though at that moment countless antiques, valuable books and other precious relics were being turned into bonfires across the city. After consulting with his superiors, Chen papered over the glass doors of the bookcase and put “low-risk” but still politically unorthodox works in his office’s most conspicuous places to provide ample fuel for the marauding Red Guards. “I was determined to protect the manuscript with my life.” Chen said. “If it were ruined, I would be doomed.” The Red Guards never came. Until today, Chen’s Chiang Kai-shek NEWSCHINA I June 2014
collection has remained untouched, gathering dust.
Search for Chiang’s Words
After graduating from Renmin University of China in 1965 with a master’s degree in modern Chinese history, Chen was assigned to the Zhonghua Book Company work unit, then under the administration of the Ministry of Culture. The company’s chief editor immediately put Chen, a Chiang specialist, in charge of a book on Chiang’s collected words. The book was initiated at the personal request of Mao Zedong, who was unsatisfied with the narrow reading lists consisting almost exclusively of the orthodox Marxism favored by his underlings. Mao wanted communist cadres to be well-versed in alternative schools of NEWSCHINA I June 2014
thought – including Chiang’s – in order to be more eloquent defenders of Marxism. The Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee relayed Mao’s demand to the Zhonghua Book Company and another publishing house to co-edit a collection of Chiang’s musings. Without any editorial experience, Chen was assigned to collect materials for the book in Beijing, with other staffers sent to do the same job in libraries in the other formerly Nationalist strongholds of Shanghai, Nanjing and Guangzhou. “The only standard for material was that we had to find complete articles, as Chiang’s real meaning could only be known in context,” Chen told our reporter. Though well-versed in modern Chinese history, Chen felt that to find Chiang’s publicized words, unedited and unadulterated by Party propaganda officials, was a hugely challenging task. Luckily, the team had a few consultants who worked as newsmen before the Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War, including an editor of pro-Party Hong Kong newspaper Ta Kung Pao and a translator for the Associated Press’s office in Shanghai. They suggested that Chen delve into the archives of the Central Daily, the Kuomintang’s mouthpiece, and the Shun Pao for sources prior to 1949, and for Chiang’s later thoughts, that he should dig through a new selection of Chiang’s works published in Taiwan in 1960. They also recommended copies of the Central Daily and Taiwan Shin Sheng Daily News, the Kuomintang’s other major propaganda publications, though copies were hard to come by on the mainland. Chen spent almost the whole of his first working year scouring libraries, including the Beijing Library and the libraries of the Central Propaganda Department, the China Academy of Natural Sciences and those affiliated with various colleges. None had a complete run of issues of the Central Daily in its collections. Chen regularly spent the night in his office to shave hours off his lengthy daily commutes. Among these libraries, the Beijing Library (now the National Library) had the most complete collection of back issues of the Central Daily. As access to any non-orthodox material was limited to high-level cadres, Chen and another three editors had to be granted
Beijing Library in the 1960s, at the time the mainland’s most complete archive of works relating to Chiang Kai-shek
special access privileges before being able to leaf through Republican newspapers, carefully setting aside any articles that referred to Chairman Chiang, President Chiang or Chiang Kai-shek. Selected newspapers would be transported back to the editorial office, and the most pertinent articles would be photocopied for potential inclusion in the upcoming collection. Large chunks of Chiang’s speeches and thoughts started appearing in China’s chaotic national media only after Chiang consolidated power within the Kuomintang in 1927. In the early years, along with the parts of the country under the direct control of the Nationalist government, China was split into colonial and semi-colonial areas, regions controlled by independent warlords and others run by Communist guerillas, a political mess
which produced an equally chaotic media environment. Chen only managed to collect odd snippets relating to Chiang from the first decade of the 20th century, when he was still serving as a military advisor to Sun Yat-sen. Material relating to Chiang after his flight to Taiwan in 1949 was impossible to find in mainland libraries – possessing such material was a major offense for ordinary citizens. Chen had to turn to the National Publications Import and Export Group (NPIEG), the State company that monopolizes the import of books and periodicals in China even today. The NPIEG agreed to import the books for Chen from British-held Hong Kong. Chen also attempted to locate material through the Reference News, a heavily-edited digest of world news published daily by the
official Xinhua News Agency for the exclusive perusal of top Party leaders. The Reference News proved to be a rich source of Chiang’s speeches and opinions. By the end of 1965, the team had collected about 12 million characters in direct quotations from the former Generalissimo. The editorial team then began the task of linking top Communist leaders’ rebuttals of Nationalist ideology and quotations directly concerning Chiang’s politics to actual quotations attributed to Chiang himself. Almost immediately, they began to uncover some uncomfortable truths.
50 Years Adrift
Nowhere in the collected materials could researchers find the source of quotations attributed to Chiang used in the widelyNEWSCHINA I June 2014
Photo by Xinhua
Photo by Xinhua
Chiang and Mao Zedong meet in Chongqing prior to the Civil War (1946-49)
available polemic The People’s Enemy Chiang Kai-shek, published during the civil war. The book was authored by Chen Boda, Mao’s private secretary of 31 years and at the time head of the Cultural Revolution Group, a body established to oversee and direct the course of the Cultural Revolution, making Chen one of the most powerful men in China. Chen Zheng would have to submit a report to the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee to explain this discrepancy. “The reply was to the effect that it was natural for Chen [Boda] to forget the provenance of quotations since the book was composed in wartime almost two decades ago.” In other words – drop it. Chen said that over the course of editing the book, a very different picture of Chiang NEWSCHINA I June 2014
began to emerge. Chiang’s words were kept whole, never revised or omitted, even when he was denouncing or insulting the Communists. Passages in which Chiang asserted his determination to fight against the Japanese were also left intact, despite the fact that the Party had painted Chiang as a weak and vacillating leader who had left fighting the Japanese to the Communists. The finished collection consisted of 40 volumes of about 400 pages each. The first four volumes, mainly Chiang’s quotations during the First Revolutionary Civil War (19241927), had already been printed shortly after the Cultural Revolution began in May 1966 and sent to the Propaganda Department for final approval. Another 16 volumes had been proofread and the remaining 20 had been typeset.
The book’s cover was baby blue, not gray as was the requirement for anything deemed “capitalist spiritual poison (a category which at the time included The Catcher in the Rye and The Count of Monte Cristo as well as the collected works of Leon Trotsky). Gray cover books were absolutely forbidden for ordinary Chinese, but were circulated among a small circle of top officials and academics for “internal criticism.” However, as Mao had ordered this book to be published, it was viewed as a special case, and an initial print run of 5,000 was applied, while Mao would double the number. But the executive order never came. In May 1966, just prior to the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution, all work at the Zhonghua Book Company was halted. Communications from the Central Propaganda Department, itself awash in purges with countless officials being fired, demoted or sent to the countryside to perform hard labor, ceased entirely. Proofs of the last 20 volumes of the planned collection were printed in haste and mothballed just before the company’s entire staff was relocated to farms in distant Hubei Province. Only after the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976, and with Mao on his deathbed, did the Zhonghua Book Company ask the Central Propaganda Department to publish the book. Their request was ignored. The proofs continued to sit in storage, remembered only by those editors who had survived the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, including Chen himself. In 2005, when Chen had already retired and most other editors in charge of the book had passed away, he suggested to publish the book as a vital source of information on modern Chinese history, citing Mao’s personal interest in seeing it published. He was denied, with officials claiming that as Mao only gave a verbal order to publish the book, this did not constitute a binding requirement. Chen has been contacted by multiple publishers in the People’s Republic showing their interest in printing the book, but none of them could manage to make it happen. It seems China’s authorities are still not ready to give their blessing to such a portrait of the Chairman’s former nemesis.
In China, only major studios and directors can bank on big investment. Nevertheless, some independent producers are trying to change this
uring last month’s Beijing premiere of Black Coal, Thin Ice, winner of the Berlin Film Festival’s Golden Bear for Best Picture, director Diao Yinan spared no effort in talking up his producer. “I owe a lot to Wen Yan, and without her help, the movie would not have been finished,” Diao said. An independent film producer, Wen’s main business is seeking investment for directors in China and securing exhibitions of their works at foreign film festivals. It took Wen eight years to accrue funding for Black Coal, Thin Ice, along with three overhauls of its screenplay to make
Photo by Dong Jiexu
By Wan Jiahuan and Wu Ziru
what was originally intended to be an art film sufficiently “commercial.” The movie has grossed 40 million yuan (US$6.4m) in China in the first week since its premiere. In interviews, Wen has begged reporters not to label the movie an “art film,” as the term is synonymous in China with “box office bomb.” Fang Li, another independent film producer, agrees with Wen’s approach. Having worked in the film industry for more than 10 years, Fang has produced and invested in a few banned movies including The Orphan of Anyang (2001), and Summer Palace (2006). His pursuit is to make “commercial NEWSCHINA I June 2014
artistic films,” has led him to be dubbed the “godfather of underground Chinese movies.”
Glory and Dreams
Before 2000, Fang had never imagined a career in movie production – his main business was appliance R&D. In college, Fang studied applied geophysics but was a voracious reader and a die-hard moviegoer. In 1989, Fang received his MBA from Wake Forest University in the US. In 1994, on a business trip to the US, he watched Zhang Yimou’s To Live (1994), a historical epic
NEWSCHINA I June 2014
Photo by Dong Jiexu
Photo by Li Qiang
banned in his home country, which was showing in a small cinema beside Stanford University. Fang remembered an audience of roughly 20 seated in the 200-seat theater, almost all of them students. Fang told NewsChina that in the early 90s, Chinese movies were either “safe” commercial offerings for domestic consumption, propaganda or historical epics, or “unsaleable” art films generally aimed at foreign markets. It was in 2000 that Wang Chao, director and writer, dragged Fang into a partnership. The 36-year-old Wang, a former assistant director to legendary director Chen Kaige, knocked on the door to Fang’s office. Wang explained to him the storyline
of The Orphan of Anyang, based on a novel written by the director about a laid-off worker in rural Henan Province who adopts an abandoned child. Fang was moved by the screenplay, and agreed to invest 360,000 yuan (US$58,000) in the project. It was not until two weeks into shooting that Fang was caught off-guard by a friend asking him whether he had obtained a permit from the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), China’s film censorship apparatus, to make the movie. At the time, Fang was unaware of the procedures demanded by the State censorship apparatus, as no underground movies could seek an official blessing for the simple reason that they would immediately be shut down. In the 1990s, some works by China’s Fifth and Sixth Generation directors were only available in China on VHS and on pirated VCDs. Recognized modern classics including Jia Zhangke’s Xiao Wu (1997), and Jiang Wen’s Devils on the Doorstep (2000), have never been screened in mainland theaters. Being individualistic and concentrating on contemporary urban life and social tensions, these “sensitive” films were virtually impossible to get past the censors. Short of government funding and backing, independent films were mainly self-financed, shot on a low budget and exclusively shown overseas. Many of the movies were joint ventures and shot with the help of international investment. Fang explained to NewsChina that, at the time, there was “no real movie market in China at all.” In 2000, the highestgrossing film in the country was Final Decision, a propaganda film, which raked in a box office of nearly 117 million yuan (US$19m) for the simple reason that it had almost no competitors, foreign or domestic. At the Cannes Film Festival in 2001, The Orphan of Anyang was specially selected for the directors’ fortnight section. Catering to the production requirements, Fang made an additional investment of 700,000 yuan (US$113,000) and lent a hand in post-production. “I finally arrived with the film after Wang Chao had walked the red carpet,” Fang said. The movie received a six-minute standing ovation from the Cannes audience. Even though The Orphan of Anyang ultimately lost out to the Canadian film The Fast Runner (2001) for the prestigious Golden Camera Award, Fang was thrilled. “It was only a lowbudget movie, but it garnered respect and acclaim which far exceeded my expectations,” Fang told NewsChina.
Independent producer Xie Xiaodong was proud that his first project – The End of Year (2007) – turned a profit. Shot for 1.5 million yuan (US$240,000), the film saw box office takings of nearly 5 million yuan (US$804,000). Shortly af-
terwards, Xie produced a series of naturalistic films including Ownership (2009), reflecting the conflict between real estate owners and their management company, Invincible Killer (2009), about the social problems resulting from “human flesh searches” – online vendettas against individuals, and Vegetate (2010), an exposé of the counterfeit medicine industry. Xie’s aim was to make social commentaries. “It is not the obligation of producers to sing paeans,” he said. Many insiders, however, were quite surprised to find that these movies got past the censors, with some suggesting that Xie’s focus on society rather than politics allowed him to continue working. In comparison, Fang Li had bad luck. Having decided to cooperate with director Lou Ye on shooting the sexually explicit and politically provocative Summer Palace (2006), Fang insisted on working “above ground.” Fang spent three months revising his screenplay to placate the censors. The movie was shot and cut, but after screening Summer Palace at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival without first getting a government permit, Fang’s film was banned, and director Lou Ye prohibited from working in China for five years. In response, Fang Li made up his mind to produce a movie “balancing the interests of all parties.” The result, titled Apple (2007) and starring breakout star Fan Bingbing, was designed to bring edgy content into the mainstream, telling the story of a massage center worker sexually abused by her boss. Fang submitted the finished film six times to SARFT for approval, and got back a list of 53 changes and a demand that he cut 17 minutes of footage. He complied, and the film was greenlit, earning over 10 million yuan (US$1.6m) in its first week at the box office. However, at the beginning of 2008, Apple was banned for violating “pornography” laws, and Fang was banned from making movies for two years. Fang lost 6 million yuan (US$965,400) on the project. In the wilderness, Fang turned his attention to the project that ultimately became Buddha Mountain (2010). This time, he realized he was already an old hand at dodging the censors. “Dialog without context may be misunderstood [by censors] as ‘attack by innuendo.’ You have to be extremely circumspect,” he said. Fang added that “hopeless” scenes, such as the heroine’s suicide by jumping off a cliff, were thus given a different feel – in that particular example, by using special effects to turn the heroine into a butterfly mid-leap, which promptly flies away.
Unlike other film producers, inveterate networkers, independent filmmaker Wen Yan is quiet and reticent. She shuns parties, preferring to spend her time re-watching silver screen classics. When she does meet investors she can get along with, she attempts to persuade them to walk away from cash cow NEWSCHINA I June 2014
Photo by IC
On the set of Buddha Mountain
film projects, instead encouraging them to concentrate on training good directors as “10 years later they will become the geese that lay golden eggs.” Her attempts usually fail. Even today, China is home to few arthouses, all of them located in big cities, and most operating under the constant threat of closure by the authorities. Commercial films with hot stars make vast sums of money. For investors, the choice is simple. Wen studied art history and design in New York and took film production as her minor. In January, 2005, Wen met director Diao Yinan for the first time during a premiere. They clicked immediately. Diao told Wen that he was writing a script entitled Night Train (2007), and was looking for investment. Ten months later, when the two met again, Wen was surprised to find Diao still in search of funding, despite being well into the production process. However, the movie debuted in 2007 in Cannes and several other film festivals and was positively received. As for Black Coal, Thin Ice, Wen said it was also tough to secure funding. “Generally speaking, one third of overseas inNEWSCHINA I June 2014
vestors may be interested [in an independent movie] but in China, the figure is only one percent,” he told NewsChina. In 2008 Wen was at the Cannes Film Festival and talked with several heads of distribution companies who voiced interest in the movie but few of whom were willing to invest. Ongoing economic crises had affected the film industry and several US funds that Wen had previously worked with were bankrupt. Others were realigning themselves towards commercial projects. It was only when Wen consented to “commercialize” the movie, introducing film noir thriller tropes, that funding was secured. Production took eight years, and the finished film underwent three major changes before the final version made its debut in 2008. Black Coal, Thin Ice could well be more successful in its home market than abroad – an unusual state of affairs for this kind of project. Xie Xiaodong told NewsChina that independent movies from China don’t sell as well abroad as they did in the 90s. “Previously, films with a ban label were highly sought after in overseas markets, but the label has lost its shine.”
Brand Designs Establishing and managing their own brand, an artist couple demonstrate the potential of combining contemporary artistic works with commercial products By Wu Ziru and Yuan Ye
u Guangci and Xiang Jing, husband and wife, are both accomplished sculptors. Since 2011, Qu and Xiang have been spending less time on solo sculpture pieces, and focusing on X+Q, their “artistic design” brand, selling small, limited-edition artworks across a range of media. Two years after its inception, X+Q has four dedicated stores between Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. Further afield, an X+Q silk scarf was recommended by the BBC on a list of Christmas gifts. X+Q products sell in Lane Crawford department stores and the Guggenheim Museum, and the company has distribution channels in Europe, America, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Their products are not cheap. One limited edition 37cm-tall sculpture of a child, made of fiber-reinforced plastics, sells for 6,800 yuan (US$1,124). One silk scarf sells for 1,680 yuan (US$275). But even at these prices, the company’s small, limited-edition designs still only cost a tiny fraction of Qu and Xiang’s solo pieces. The couple’s new business reflects a trend in China’s art market in recent years, with a new generation of art consumers fueling demand for comparatively affordable sculpture and design pieces. Art-influenced brands such as X+Q, which now has a staff of 30, are responding to this trend.
Photo by IC
Artist Xiang Jing with some of her works, 2006
Three years ago when X+Q opened its first store in Beijing’s upscale Yintai Center mall, the art derivatives market was already growing, but it was the first time an artist had started their own brand and opened a store in a high-end shopping mall. Qu Guangci is not the first in China’s art circle to make the transition from successful solo artist to businessman. Around 2007, when the Chinese contemporary art market began to balloon, down-andout artists became rich overnight, and many turned to investment and finance markets. Most chose to open restaurants – Qu’s earliest investments were in real estate. When Lane Crawford purchased Qu’s “angel” sculpture series at NEWSCHINA I June 2014
a 2010 exhibition in Hong Kong, which it then sold in its own stores, Qu saw an opportunity.
Art Works, Products?
In 2011, the overheated contemporary Chinese art market began to cool. Meanwhile, derivative products of contemporary art began to boom, leading many prominent galleries in Beijing such as the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA), the Today Art Museum and the White Box Gallery to open art stores. The galleries sign contracts with artists, who authorize them to use their intellectual property on a range of products. The stores then produce and sell these derivatives, such as clocks, tea sets, notebooks, T-shirts, mini-sculptures and engraved paintings. Wu Ling used to manage the derivative store at the White Box Gallery. In her opinion, art derivative products in China all face the same problem: a lack of public recognition for artists, resulting in a small consumer range. At the peak of the Chinese art boom, the sale of art derivatives was rife in big cities like Beijing. Cups and T-shirts sold in tourist souvenir shops were printed with the distinctive works of Chinese artists, such as the cartoonish smiling faces of Yue Minjun and Zhang Xiaogang’s Cultural Revolution-style family portraits. However, as the market cooled, these unlicensed reproductions became less popular. As cheap and poorly made art derivatives gradually fell out of favor, high-end derivatives such as X+Q began to draw attention. These limited edition, high-end products are getting close to consumers proximate to the top of the market pyramid. In the art design shop at UCCA in Beijing, a limited edition green dinosaur sculpture by sculptor Sui Jianguo costs 48,000 yuan (US$7,860). According to Xue Mei, the center’s CEO and head of its design store, Sui’s sculptures are very popular and have almost sold out. Yet Qu knows clearly enough that building
NEWSCHINA I June 2014
a high-end brand is difficult in today’s China. In the first two years after he founded X+Q, Qu was still eager to share with people the hardship he endured when looking for manufacturers. Today he is less willing to mention such backstage struggles. Each sculpture goes through 18 procedures from design and production to painting. “Each single link can go wrong, which keeps you anxious.” According to Qu, the problem is not that the workers know little about their skills, but the lack of qualityconsciousness. Even in logistics, things can easily go wrong. Before New Year 2014, Qu sent some 2,000 products to Taiwan, only to be told that they all smashed on arrival. “I had no choice but to take all the loss and make them all over again,” said Qu casually. For Qu, it is hard to tell which identity he enjoys more, that of artist or businessman. For some time following X+Q’s inception, Qu was overwhelmed by the business side of things, leaving him no time for artistic creation for nearly a year. Some told him he was diverging too far from his art, and risked losing his creativity. Even his wife Xiang Jing didn’t understand. “Have you ever seen an artist managing himself or herself?” said Qu. Now, Qu’s doubts have nearly disappeared. So far, X+Q has been a successful brand, a case study praised by industry insiders. Qu does not hide his commercial talent. He said with a little pride that he is one of the few artists who are good at negotiating prices with collectors. Later this year, Qu will hold a large personal exhibition. “You will see my abilities as an artist then,” he said.
Qu Guangci’s “Angel” series
HOME AT LAST 58
NEWSCHINA I June 2014
People wave photos of their dead ancestors while waiting for the arrival of trucks carrying the coffins at Taoxian Airport, Shenyang, China, March 28
The remains of 437 Chinese People’s Volunteers (CPV) soldiers killed in the Korean War (1950-53) were repatriated to China from South Korea on March 28, over 60 years after an armistice agreement was signed. The bodies were buried in a memorial park in Shenyang, capital of northeast China’s Liaoning Province. A database will be set up to identify the dead, and DNA tests will be conducted on the request of relatives of the deceased. The remains were previously buried at a cemetery in the South Korean border city of Paju, and most have not yet been identified. This is the first move in a long-term cooperation project between China and South Korea on the return of war remains. CPV soldiers fought side-by-side with North Korean troops in the war against the South Korean army and US-led UN forces – a conflict in which over 183,100 CPV troops lost their lives.
Chinese soldiers carry coffins containing remains of soldiers of the Chinese People’s Volunteers (CPV) killed in the Korean War, Taoxian Airport, Shenyang, China, March 28 NEWSCHINA I June 2014
1. Staff from South Korea inter the remains of CPV soldiers at a cemetery in Paju, March 28 2. South Korean soldiers carry caskets at a cemetery in Paju to be transported to Incheon International Airport, March 28
3. Chinese military representatives receive coffins during a handover ceremony at the Incheon International Airport of South Korea, March 28 4. A Chinese soldier places a national flag on a coffin, Taoxian Airport in Shenyang, March 28 5. Zou Ming (right), a senior official with the Ministry of Civil Affairs shakes hands with South Korean Deputy Defense Minister Baek Seung-joo during a handover ceremony at Incheon International Airport, South Korea, March 28 6. Coffins are unloaded from a plane after arriving at the Taoxian Airport, Shenyang, March 28 7. A veteran weeps while watching the trucks containing coffins approach the memorial park in Shenyang, March 28 8. The trucks containing coffins arrive at their final destination, Shenyang, China, March 28
NEWSCHINA I June 2014
8 NEWSCHINA I June 2014
NEWSCHINA I June 2014
1. A statue inside the memorial park 2. Veterans bow to coffins at Taoxian Airport, Shenyang, China, March 28 3. Descendents wait for the arrival of the trucks containing the coffins of their dead ancestors at the memorial park in Shenyang, March 28 4. Wu Jingyuan, a veteran of the Korean War leaves the memorial park, Shenyang, April, 2009
Photo by Xinhua,CFP and IC
4 NEWSCHINA I June 2014
OUTSIDEIN perspectives from within China
While on a mission to exploit an administrative loophole, our writer winds up in a tight spot in the frozen town of Erenhot on the China-Mongolia border By Matt Schrader
HOW TO GET THERE: You have two options to get to Erenhot, bus or train. Take the train, which departs several times weekly from Beijing Station. Return tickets are a tough get, though, so prepare yourself for an eleven-hour bus ride for your return trip. WHERE TO STAY: Erenhot is not large, and you can find most classes of accommodation in close proximity to the train station. Follow the cardinal rule of small-town China hotel culture (“If it looks like the kind of place where you’ll get unwanted late-night solicitations, it probably is.”) and you’ll be ok.
NEWSCHINA I June 2014
Photo by CFP
’m pretty sure that travel is supposed to be a group activity, and a run: It’s a common practice whereby foreigners illegally living and riotously fun one at that. This is the received wisdom, the buzzy working in China on tourist or short-term business visas briefly exit message communicated by swarms of smiling friends on holiday the country to extend the validity of said visas. The word “privileged” as they tromp across my Facebook feed. Boredom, isolation, loneli- is not misplaced in this case; the expansive leniency of Chinese auness, inconvenience – such things do not seem to be part and parcel thorities towards this rather egregious violation of their law’s letter to other people’s travel experience, at least when viewed in two di- has a lot to do with the diversity and vibrancy of the expat scene in mensions. Although I know that China’s first-tier cities. Consider life’s depth doesn’t fit easily within seriously for a second the uproar the confines of a screen, and that that would ensue if Chinese peostate of constant fabulousness inple tried something similar in a habited by our Internet selves is developed country.) an impossible illusion, whenever I I was poor, you see. Okay, not travel I always seem to find myself actually poor. “Cash starved” glancing over my shoulder at that might be a better way of putting nagging question: Am I doing it. I was in the midst of my first this right? FOMO FTW, as they bout of freelancing, and strugwould say on the interwebs. gling to scrounge together enough Of course, if what you’re doing kitty to do very basic things like is going to the China-Mongolia pay my rent. The traditional spots border in the dead of winter, for a quick visa run – Hong Kong; then it’s a pretty safe bet that you Seoul; to a visa agency, wad of cash are not – in actual point of fact in hand – were all 100 percent out – doing it right. When the temof the question. And then, in a perature hits minus 40, and you late night instant messaging condo the math only to realize that, versation, a friend tells me that Celsius or Fahrenheit, it doesn’t A border guard sweeps snow at a boundary monument in Erenhot the train to the Mongolian bormatter because it’s minus forty der only costs 150 yuan (US$24). degrees outside, then it’s probably Remotest Mongolia in deepest, reasonable to begin questioning darkest winter, for less than a (big) the decisions that led you to that particular point. family dinner at McDonald’s? Holy cow, sign me the hell up! Such was the situation one night in January a few years back, as I And so that’s how I ended up that night on a train platform with stood on a train platform in Erenhot, the cold braiding my nose hairs my nostrils full of frozen hair. And slipping through a hole in a border into frozen, tangled little plaits. fence the next day. But I’d best slow down, I’m getting a little ahead The phrase “middle of nowhere” gets tossed around a lot nowadays of myself. (“You live in west Beijing? Man, that’s the middle of nowhere!”). In After a short, crunchy trek down Erenhot’s snow-packed main Erenhot’s case, it’s actually accurate. The town rides the Chinese side drag, I got myself set up in one of the flophouses arrayed along the of the border between Inner Mongolia and Mongolia proper, a tiny street closest to the train station, and tucked in to rest up for the crosshuman island in a rolling sea of grass, five hours of give-it-the-gas ing the next day. driving from the closest city of any consequence. Like a lot of border The next morning I woke to vaulted blue skies and killing cold. towns, it exists primarily as a waystop, providing the physical infra- Here is a partial list of the things I did wrong that day: structure for the various kinds of arbitrage that happen around and 1) wore running shoes: If you’ve ever found yourself wondering across national boundaries. in an idle moment, “Are three pairs of socks enough to keep my feet Arbitrage was what had brought me to this frigid platform, the eve- warm while wearing running shoes in sub-arctic temperatures?” I can ning quiet but for the steamy shussh of the train next to me bedding assure you that the answer is most emphatically “no.” down for the night. In particular, it was that peculiar form of institu2) showed up too early: If you do ever decide to try a January tional arbitrage known as the “visa run” that expatriates in China are Mongolian visa run for yourself, do yourself a favor and sleep in on privileged to enjoy. the day. Walking across the border is strictly forbidden – you have (A brief digression for those not familiar with the concept of a visa to be in a vehicle. The way most crossers deal with this is by hopNEWSCHINA I June 2014
Photo by CFP
ping a ride in the veritable horde of Mongolian-driven Soviet-era box speak any language I spoke, and vice versa, but through some “helpjeeps that – according to Lonely Planet – chuff back and forth across me-I’m-an-idiot-tourist-who-can’t-get-through-the-gate” pantomimthe border throughout the day. Except in the winter they don’t. In ing I was able to get the message across that I needed a ride. They the winter they don’t get started until 11. So, no matter what Lonely exchanged a few words and a couple small bills with the guard at the fence, then smiled and motioned for Planet says, go ahead and treat yourself me to follow them as they struck out to a couple extra hours of shut eye, lest along the long metal fence enclosing you find yourself quite literally cooling the complex. your heels at the massive border crossI hesitate to offer the following as ing complex’s front gate, a few minutes’ iron-clad travel advice, but there’s a ride up a solitary road from Erenhot. passing chance that if you offer yourAnd about that front gate... self up to the kindness of strangers, 3) showed up at the wrong place: It you might find that if you turn left at turns out that the staging point for the the gate at the border complex fence jeep hordes is not the border crossing in Erenhot and walk about two huncomplex’s front gate, but a square back dred meters to the point where the in town. No blaming Lonely Planet fence turns inwards, that right there here, I just straight-up botched this one. at the elbow in the fence, right where They say that God looks after fools it strikes back out along its original and small children. Last I checked, I Camels are one of the few attractions in Erenhot direction, you’ll find a spot where a wasn’t a small child, so I must be the couple bars are missing. former. As I stood there in the boneAnd maybe if you’re really lucky, the chilling sunshine, stuck outside the gate with no ride onwards or backwards and slowly freezing from the border guard back at the gate will be looking the wrong direction, feet up, a little black car chugged to a halt next to me. Out popped blissfully and profitably unaware of the interlopers hustling towards a couple of Mongolians, dressed in jeans and leather jackets. Clearly Mongolia, the border building looming at them from across a field of they hadn’t gotten the memo that it was cold outside. They didn’t sparkling white. real chinese
xueba Curve Wrecker As Chinese high school students hit the books for the coming gaokao, China’s national college entry examination, 18-year-old student Ding Haoyang from Hunan Province shocked his peers by announcing he had received offers from a total of five prestigious American universities, earning himself the nickname “China’s top xueba [curve wrecker].” With “xue” literally meaning “study” and “ba” “overlord,” xueba has become an increasingly popular term among Chinese students, describing those who view studying as a hobby, inevitably getting the highest grades and dragging up the average, often to the chagrin of their classmates. However, xueba are not simply industrious – they are also known for their disdain for traditional methods of learning. Ding Haoyang,
for example, had spent much of his time watching American TV shows and reading American books since he quit school in 2012 in order to teach himself at home. The popularity of the term to some extent represents Chinese students’ exasperation with spoon-fed education. Many xueba are skilled at summing up the key points of their classes and representing them with interesting visual charts or tables. In the run-up to an important exam, class notes taken by xueba, often far easier to understand and remember than dull textbooks, tend to spread across campuses. Besides their futuristic learning methods, true xueba are also idolized for their apparent ability to lead well-rounded lives despite their dedication to their studies. For example, Huang Yuqing from
Wuhan, who scored the highest in the country in the 2013 gaokao, is in fact better known for an online pledge to his girlfriend: “Even if I won the whole world, it would mean nothing without you.” Many of his online followers pointed out that Huang was far more human than those who spent their whole lives buried in their schoolbooks. The antonym to xueba, xuezha (zha literally means “dregs”) describes those who care little about their studies and often find themselves cramming in the few days before their exams. Though often criticized by their parents and teachers, xuezha is not a pejorative term among ordinary students, who often use the word to bemoan their own inability to balance their studies with their personal lives. NEWSCHINA I June 2014
flavor of the month
can count the number of times I have had duck in Beijing on one mercifully unwebbed hand. Peking duck always – only – coincides with a relative or friend's visit. If it weren't for these irregular occasions, I simply wouldn't bother. Many expat residents I know hold a similar attitude. The novelty has worn off. It's that time of year again. Ugh…Great Wall. Ugh…duck. Whatever next? Peking duck is fêted as China’s national dish, at least in the capital, and unlike say, the American hamburger, it isn’t a daily staple. Instead, this imperial fowl, for centuries the exclusive preserve of the elite, is reserved for special occasions. Peking duck first appeared during the Ming dynasty, limited to imperial court menus by the huge expense and complexity necessitated in its preparation. The antecedents of the dish, however, date from far earlier – records show ducks being roasted for the imperial family during the Southern and Northern Dynasties. The duck’s trip to the slaughterhouse isn’t exactly charmed. Towards the end of their short, two-month life span, they are force fed until they reach an optimal weight – China’s answer to the gavage that produces France’s foie gras. That crackling skin? It’s due to exhaustive prep that begins immediately after plucking. Chefs have to master procedures such as scalding and drying the duck to guarantee a crispy carapace. Most tourists make a beeline for the famous Quanjude, one of Beijing’s oldest restaurants specializing in duck. In the mid-1800s, its founder bribed a retired imperial chef for his coveted roast duck recipe, opened the joint, and began serving the dish to eager, upwardlymobile local diners. Poets and writers penned flowery odes to the dish. Commoners drooled at this unobtainable food of the gods. Now, duck exists for the masses, though it has never been cheap. Quanjude alone, with its dozens of chains China-wide, sells over 2 million birds, prepared in any one of 400 different ways, each year. Its massive flagship, with seven floors, can feel impersonal, so I like to steer my visitors NEWSCHINA I June 2014
elsewhere. Thankfully, there’s a lot of choice. For the meek and less adventurous, Da Dong has been a safe bet. It’s pricier, charging around US$50 per duck, but the dishes get extra marks for presentation. The elegant surroundings create a sort of safe house for trying duck. “See guys? It’s just like eating chicken that tastes a little off. Yeah, that’s the beak and head. Isn't this fun?” Those on a budget can go for cheap, roadside duck. In my experience, the slices of the fowl come out a bit scrappy, and the skin lacks that photogenic look beloved of the tourists in the bigger chains. But, a hard-to-beat US$10 price tag goes down easy enough with cheap beer. A pleasant discovery for me was The Horizon. My parents were in town and I decided to take them to the restaurant. The space is modern and inviting, and the menu is a diverse mix of regional specialties. The head duck chef, Yuan Chaoying, worked at Quanjude for two decades and had his own private restaurant for another, before heading up the duck squad at The Horizon. He has a loyal following. The Horizon was a risky move, as my father was keen to try one of the more traditional duck houses. There were a few more grumbles, after we were seated, when we realized that the duck was made to order. As we pecked away at appetizers and devoured a delicious clay pot of braised Mandarin fish, we hoped the duck would be worth the 70-minute wait. Yuan’s ducks are roasted over jujube wood, a century-old tradition. This differs from other restaurants, many of which have swapped for more inexpensive alternatives, like apple or peach. “It’s just not the same,” Yuan says. “Jujube wood produces the best roast duck. Once fired, it can be used for a long time. Other types of wood burn more quickly, and constantly changing the wood causes the oven temperature to vary. It’s therefore harder to be consistent and to guarantee quality. Also, jujube wood isn't smoky like other woods, so when you're eating the duck, you get that pure flavor.”
co1urtesy of the horizon
By Stephy Chung
The duck was wheeled over whole on a dining cart, as per tradition. The ceremonial carving process specifies the number of cuts, and where they are made. Yuan explained to us that the duck should be served in three parts. “First, the breast is carefully sliced and laid out in a lotus shape. Then, the meat from the legs and thighs. And finally, the head and the ‘keel’ are served. This symbolizes the whole duck.” His ducks are sliced into 80 pieces on average and the remaining parts are boiled down into a rich broth to settle diners’ stomachs. We were urged to begin with the skin. The idea is to dip the crispy skin in granulated sugar and allow the first bite to melt in your mouth. It’s quite decadent and fatty. Traditionally, ducks are served with a tray of condiments, such as a brown fermented sauce, sliced scallions, and julienned cucumbers. Diners then build their own duck roll according to preference by wrapping the condiments and meat in paper thin wheat flour pancakes. Besides the homemade pancakes, I was delighted to gobble a side order of shaobing, or small, flat, paper-crisp sesame buns. The freshbaked shaobing yielded a wonderful crunch, with the tender duck enhanced by the sweetness of the thick sauce and the subtle flavors of the cucumbers. As my parents flashed smiles of approval between enthusiastic bites, I was reminded that going for duck doesn’t have to feel like a chore when done right.
Everything on the line By Sean Silbert
It’s easy to picture a future where shopping in the flesh becomes akin to visiting a general store and asking a mustachioed clerk to lift down the hemp sacks.
Illustration by Liu Xiaochao
I haven’t been out to buy toothpaste in a few months. Same goes for toilet paper, new socks, coffee and laundry detergent. In fact, most of my daily essentials just appear at my door at regular intervals. I never need to lift a finger – well, except the ones I use to type. I just order online. In China’s Internet megamalls, buying in bulk is preferable for most things, but only to save on shipping costs. I prefer the Chinese version of Amazon, but the labyrinthine collection of crap on supercenter Taobao will do in a pinch. In fact, most electronic purchasing in China is done on one of many sprawling websites that don’t have a postal address. I don’t need to put on pants to Google Translate “soap dish” and have a package on the way to my door within hours. Once, I ordered a beard trimmer in the morning only to have it delivered to my office early enough to make me look fly by the same evening. Convenience is king in China, and understandably so. There are many advantages to falling in with a faceless megacorporation, the first of which is I don’t have to haggle – still de rigeur in many brick-and-mortar establishments despite plummeting local enthusiasm for this exhausting pastime. Sometimes I don’t even have to cajole my roommate into letting me use her online banking service – I can just pay cash on delivery. Best of all, if I don’t like what I get, I can just pop it in a box and send it back – easy peasy. After factoring in the money saved, online shopping becomes irresistible. I can buy contact lenses at a big discount and have them sent directly to my house. They could be fakes (I try not to think about this while wearing them) but who cares – they’re so cheap! China has already become the world’s online retail king, with hundreds of millions of people shopping every day, with their numbers swelling by thousands every day. Sales on imaginary holidays like November 11, Singles’ Day (it’s all ones – get it?) regularly elicit a windfall. 60
percent of deliveries in China are of goods purchased online. It’s easy to picture a future where shopping in the flesh becomes akin to visiting a general store and asking a mustachioed clerk to lift down the hemp sacks. Since just about anything can be snagged through the Internet in China, it’s frankly preposterous to go shopping for anything but the most specific items. It seems a rule of thumb that Chinese stores don’t favor the browser – you’re practically guaranteed not to find anything you need. Even fancy boutiques, where China’s bustling independent fashion designers and arts-andcrafty types sell quirky wares, are increasingly moving into the digital ether. Employees of brand-label outlets will even use their staff discount to make some cash on the side. I shudder to think how many hours I’ve spent browsing online for gaudy Halloween costumes. Not all purchases are innocuous. I know a guy
who bought a fake driver’s license and imitation license plates online. Others shop for alarmingly realistic replica guns, very real Kukri knives, and even illegal narcotics. Now that the Chinese have enough disposable income to waste it, it’s a shopaholic’s paradise – but buyer beware! And it’s not just me that’s obsessed – a 2013 McKinsey report suggests that online retail isn’t just usurping the place of going out and buying things, but is in fact spurring consumption. When all the effort of physically going into a store is eliminated, forgetting one’s bank balance is virtually a given. Actually, the last thing I remember actually leaving my apartment to purchase in the past year was a paintbrush. I walked over to the hardware store, casually scanned the wares and took my selection to the register. When the attendant threw out a price and attempted to haggle, I was dumbstruck. It had been too long since I’d danced the China shopping ritual – acting disappointed, walking away, feigning anger – all those exhausting, repetitive dances that serve only to sour any shopping experience. Having conducted all my retail therapy with a credit card via a screen for so long, I had no idea how to interact with a human being. I’m sure I was fleeced. But while surfing the Web is unquestionably easier than doing one’s shopping in person, there remains something vital about buying from someone face to face. Call me a Luddite, but while many local stores can boost their business setting up a virtual store, moving all your consumption online could easily turn all of us into recluses – at least in terms of interactions with strangers. Perhaps the pundits are right, and China’s urban centers are simply following the lead of the antisocial West, with millions crammed into massive apartment complexes, communicating constantly with peers living miles away while never speaking to their immediate neighbors. That being said, kitty litter is a lot less work when delivered. NEWSCHINA I June 2014
Unlikely Artefacts By James Kingston
NEWSCHINA I June 2014
A puffer-fish hung desiccated and spiky from the top of a stand, its eyes gazing dead and ironic upon the customers.
Illustration by Liu Xiaochao
‘‘Powerty from barrel of gun.’’ Misspelt, with garbled syntax, the poster seemed imbued with an odd poignancy – the propaganda of the permanent socialist revolution commoditized, copied, and churned out in bad English for foreign tourists, taking its place as one more curio in the bric-a-brac at Panjiayuan market. Situated in south-east Beijing, it is one of the largest antiques markets in China. Here under canopied shade a vast array of antiques and trinkets tempts the eye of the tourist. The old, the odd, and the fake all come here in search of new owners; anything and everything may be found, though the prices seem based more than anything else upon a market assessment of the buyer, not the goods. Founded in 1992 as the country re-embarked upon its stalled opening to the outside world, the market began as people began bringing their heirlooms to what was then an empty patch of south eastern Beijing, laying wares down on blankets. Slowly the site expanded, gaining a reputation for the occasional startling find made by antique dealers. Today the market is divided up into sections – stone carving, books and scriptures, arts and crafts, traditional paintings, general interest and minority goods. Entering, I had moved down a corridor devoted to brushwork. Philosophers wandering through wildernesses of mountain and mist jostled with full-frontal paintings of naked young women, posed and smiling, in variously welcoming stances – a typical melange of subjects and styles, and key to Panjiayuan’s charm. Whole sections of the place appeared devoted to religious paraphernalia. Innumerable statues of the Buddha lined the space along the stalls: the Buddha in repose, the Buddha in prayer, the Buddha seated, smiling, and secretive. Not to be outdone, Mao figurines lay in great profusion: Mao the scholar, Mao the soldier, Mao the demigod. Shoppers wandered here and there browsing at the green and white of jade figurines, holding them up to the light and pressing them to their cheeks. Prayer beads, Tibetan hats, antelope horns, shawls and robes lay here and there. A
puffer-fish hung desiccated and spiky from the top of a stand, its eyes gazing dead and ironic upon the customers. Coins lay in great profusion on the long tables where the traders had laid out their wares, money from all ages of China’s history. Republican-era coins mixed with those purporting to be from the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), while copper knife coins of the Zhou period (1046-256 BC), some green with age, others still gleaming and more likely than not the product of a counterfeit goods factory, mixed with spade money and the more familiar circles and squares of copper currency. Chatting to the shop owners, congratulating myself for engaging in what I took to be detailed historical banter, there in the beating heart of the kind of bustling market I had dreamt of under the sullen skies of British Januaries, I let myself be persuaded to buy fake after fake. Tea was poured and proffered – expressions of friendship, and intense curiosity evinced for the ways of the wandering Brits and their homeland, a noble and proud
country, full, my interlocutors uniformly supposed, of “gentlemen.” Would I not stay awhile, and look at this particular item? From a coin salesman, smiling benignly at me from under his glasses, I purchased Taiping-era (circa 1850) coins with simplified Chinese script (circa 1956), which, even at the time, I could tell were clearly fakes. No no, he said – of course they used simplified characters on coins in the late Qing Dynasty. Foolishly I chose to believe him. Another tried to sell me a “genuine chess set,” a third, the paw of a tiger, a snip at 2000 yuan (US$321). Spears, swords, maces and the odd axe were dotted amidst the collections, but it was the myriad lacquered tea sets and porcelain tea cups, butterfly shoes and opium pipes that seemed most suitable to satisfy my more pretentious Orientalist fantasies, long treasured since my days as an undergraduate. Pausing before a smiling vendor, his wispy beard seeming to be interwoven with the inscrutable wisdom of the East, I gazed longingly at the long tube and high pot of one such pipe. White, made apparently from ivory, and covered in a delicate filigree of imagery around the bulb, I fondly imagined the prominent place it would occupy upon my well-stocked London bookshelf, a memento of my time in China both suggesting my historical interests and, I earnestly hoped, a certain louche sophistication to any such dinner guests whose eyes might alight upon it before, enthralled, they implored me to impart my learning. The shopkeeper explained the opium process – the rolling of a small brown ball into the central aperture, inhalation, exhalation, and the languid surrender into dream’s soft embrace. Delighted, I bought the piece immediately, half remembered bits of Baudelaire and de Quincy swirling in my mind. Hardly had I left the market when gazing more carefully upon it I noticed an oddity: it unscrewed. Twisting it I found my beloved pipe was not so much an enigmatic memento of a lost tradition, as a kind of novelty sheath for a biro pen. My houseguests remain none the wiser.
Cultural listings TV
More Than They Can Chew? Two years after its first season was broadcast, A Bite of China, a popular documentary series focusing on Chinese cuisine, returned to China’s TV screens from mid-April to early June. The first season was a runaway hit in 2012 with its broad exploration of Chinese gastronomy from the sourcing of ingredients to the culinary process. Meanwhile, the documentary’s delicate cinematography, clever editing and emotive narration also contributed greatly to its success. The second season expanded on the first’s most marketable aspects, while broadening its exploration with more high-end production values. However, the new season has been criticized for overreaching – the producers have been accused of featuring too large a range of foods, and “selling” cuisine with sentimentality.
War of the Festivals
A Misunderstood Taiwan
The May Day holiday over the first weekend of May saw fierce competition between music festivals in China, especially the two biggest. Strawberry Music Festival, organized by Modern Sky Entertainment, featured a lineup of about 120 bands and artists, both domestic and international, performing over three days in both Beijing and Shanghai. Meanwhile, Midi Music Festival, now in its 12th year, had a lineup of a similar scale in Beijing, although was slightly smaller in Shanghai. Elsewhere, eight other official Strawberry festivals were held in second-tier cities, a significant expansion from last year. While Midi retained its traditionally heavier rock style, Strawberry showed increased diversity, particularly reflected in the prime-time set given to veteran Hong Kong actress Maggie Cheung, who has recently embarked on a rock ’n’ roll singing career.
By Luo Fen-mei
Resetting the Future Works from 14 artists, born around the 1910s, 1930s and 1950s, were showcased in Beijing’s Soka Art Center from April to June. Titled “Reset Chinese Contemporary Art,” the exhibition is ambitious in its exploration of a “new direction” using classical works from heavyweight artists such as Ling Fengmian, Wu Guanzhong, Zao Wou-Ki, Chu Teh-Chun, Liu Guosong, Xu Bing and Cai Guo-Qiang. Ling Fengmian was one of the first Chinese painters to study in France, combining cubism with traditional Chinese portraiture, while Cai Guo-Qiang remains one of the most internationally influential Chinese artists today. Deliberately avoiding the pop art made in China over the past two decades, the exhibition claims to look to older masters for future inspiration.
How much do mainlanders know about Taiwan and its history? While mainland textbooks and other publications have no shortage of information on the topic, there is also much misunderstanding of pre- and post-revolutionary Taiwan, and the real causes behind these events. A Misunderstood Taiwan, written by Taiwanese history professor and researcher Luo Fen-mei, runs readers through major events that happened between 1553 and 1860, a period from when Taiwan received its earliest Ming Dynasty mainland immigrants, to its early modernization. Besides her university teaching, Professor Luo also lectures on Taiwanese history on TV, endowing her writing with both fun and readability. NEWSCHINA I June 2014
NEWSCHINA I June 2014
Without appeal, ‘mixed ownership’ is a dead end More drastic reform measures are needed to attract private investment into the State sector By Deng Yuwen
ince the Third Plenum of the CPC was held last November, of investors in State-owned enterprises have wound up in prison for China has been encouraging the development of “mixed “embezzling State assets.” The same cannot be said of the officials ownership,” shareholding divided between State, collectively running these enterprises. owned and private capital, allowing for private equity stakes in projThe most famous case was that of Gu Chujun, a former home ects backed by the State. appliance tycoon, who was in 2008 senThe decision has been hailed by the tenced to 10 years in jail for economic government and the official media as a crimes regarding his 2003 acquisition of In the last decade, dozens major step towards breaking the State of investors in State-owned a State-owned home appliance manumonopolies in various industries and Gu, who was released on probaenterprises have wound up facturer. increasing the efficiency of China’s untion in 2012, claimed that he was set up in prison for “embezzling wieldy State-owned enterprises (SOEs). by various officials and State executives. state assets.” The same So far, China’s entrepreneurs have Such stories do little to encourage concannot be said of the shown no enthusiasm. fidence among private investors eyeing According to a poll taken at the China’s bloated State sector. officials running these Bo’ao Forum for Asia, about 70 perFor the mixed ownership scheme to enterprises. cent of investors responded that they have appeal, China must endeavor to were “uncertain” about the prospect genuinely separate political and manageof the mixed ownership development rial interests in State-owned enterprises model. 90 percent of private entreprewith a view to creating genuinely comneurs said that they were concerned that private interests in such petitive businesses. Otherwise, State monopolies will remain intact. schemes would “have no say,” while others expressed doubts that In addition, the government should reform the State sector to the industries opened to private investment would only be those confine State controls to enterprises with a direct impact on public with limited profit margins. welfare, such as utilities, while opening up competitive industries, Billionaires Wang Jianlin, Chairman of the Dalian Wanda group, such as steel and raw materials, to private competition. who topped the 2013 Forbes China Rich List, and Zong Qinghou, China’s leaders have set a GDP growth target of 7.5 percent, chairman of F&B giant Wahaha, who topped the same list in 2012, aiming to increase the nation’s fixed asset ratio by 17.9 percent. explicitly said that they would not join the scheme unless private To achieve this goal, there needs to be at least 50 trillion yuan entrepreneurs were permitted to purchase majority stakes. (US$8.04tn) of investment, 30 percent of which, by the State’s own For many entrepreneurs, without established and transparent admission, will need to be private. regulation, the mixed-ownership scheme looks like a plot to entrap Unless the government gets serious about addressing the conthe independently wealthy and funnel further volumes of private cerns of private entrepreneurs, there will be no future for the mixed wealth into State hands. Such concerns stem both from the system- ownership scheme. atic discrimination against non-State capital encountered in many industries, and from historical experience. In the last decade, dozens (The author is a senior current affairs commentator)
NEWSCHINA I June 2014
NEWSCHINA I June 2014
NEWSCHINA I June 2014